On March 30, as part of its annual Spring Gala, at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) delighted listeners by presenting five gifted young artists, rightly dubbed “Cream of the Crop!,” and alumni of NYFOS’ Emerging Artists programs, in a varied baker’s dozen of songs, art and popular, and selections from musicals, operetta, and film. NYFOS Artistic Director and Co-Founder Steven Blier was at the Steinway for most songs and was spelled by or joined by Associate Artistic Director and Co-Founder Michael Barrett for two of them.
Mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen, soon joining the Lyric Opera of Chicago, opened the concert with a haunting “Calling You,” by Bob Telson, from the film “Baghdad Café,” enhanced by Blier’s quiet, sometimes jazzy accompaniment, and returned to express longing for home in an at once intense and touching “J’attends un navire,” from Kurt Weill’s “Marie Galante,” with words by Jacques Deval.
Singing in a bright lyric tenor, Theo Lebow gave us Paris’ beautiful aria “Au mont Ida,” from Jacques Offenbach’s “La Belle Hélène,” and was also granted what Blier called “our 11 o’clock number,” a rapturous Swedish showpiece and “hymn to song.”
Lyric baritone and sensitive interpreter John Brancy offered a persuasive account of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” from “Gay Divorce,” with a rhapsodic instrumental interlude from Blier and a triumphant climactic high note from Brancy. The singer also delivered an emotional “If Ever I Would Leave You,” Lancelot’s song from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s “Camelot,” which he sang at Blier and Jim Russell’s wedding, and capped here with a ringing top tone.
Metropolitan Opera lyric tenor Paul Appleby sang Paul Simon’s “It’s Alright” with eloquent simplicity; a William Bolcom setting, replete with double entendres, from the song cycle “Open House,” of Theodore Roethke poetry, gently jazzy and erotic, ending with “Who can count eternity in days?/I measure time by how a body sways,” and assisted by Blier and Barrett; and a Brazilian love song, conveying deepest devotion, with a dulcet floated ending.
Barrett was at the keyboard for soprano Julia Bullock’s lilting spiritual “Little David, Play on Your Harp,” in Harry T. Burleigh’s transcription, while Blier assisted as she ruefully considered, in finest detail, the curse of being a jinx in Alex Rodgers’ “The Jonah Man,” from “In Dahomey” (1903), the first Black Broadway musical. Bullock, as Magnolia Hawks, had, in Appleby and Brancy, a choice of Gaylord Ravenals for a tender “Make Believe,” by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, from “Show Boat.”
The full ensemble brought this gala concert to a close with a propulsive Mexican habanera, “Zumba,” about a loving couple reunited in death.
NYFOS returns to Merkin Concert Hall on April 28 for “Letters from Spain: a World of Song in Spanish Poetry,” with Corinne Winters, Lebow, and Alexey Lavrov singing songs from Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Spanish Songs,” Robert Schumann’s “Spanisches Liederspiel,” and William Bolcom’s “Canciones de Lorca,” as well as works by Sergei Taneyev, Hugo Wolf, Peter Lieberson, Xavier Montsalvage, Enrique Granados, and others. Visit www.nyfos.org
for further information.