Christiane Karg / Weill Recital Hall 4-15-16

One of the upsides to volunteering at Carnegie Hall is that you get access to the volunteers’ lounge, which has not only things like free coffee and couches and a bathroom and all that, but there is also a TV feed from the stage, including sound, so you can watch and listen to whatever is going on in the main auditorium. This is pretty cool – if you don’t have a ticket to something, you can watch it from there, and although the picture isn’t great, it’s better than nothing. On Friday, I spent a worthwhile 20 minutes or so watching and listening to Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax rehearse for their recital later that evening. This was pretty neat. I wasn’t able to go to the performance because I had a ticket for another show at the same time, but I felt like I got a little snippet of it.

The reason I was there that evening was to hear Christiane Karg (and Malcolm Martineau on the piano) in Weill Recital Hall. It was Karg’s first recital in New York, and as she explained before her second of three encores, normally this program contains several songs in English, but she didn’t want to do those here, so they swapped the program around a little bit. That second encore was one of those songs, though it was by an American, Samuel Barber, setting the words of an Irishman, James Joyce, so as Anglophone songs go, we can call it inclusively international. Karg’s German accent added some additional international flair – but I am one of those people who rather likes German accents, so it didn’t bother me at all.

The rest of the program consisted of songs in German, Spanish and French. The title of the whole was “Nostalgia: European Dream,” and there was indeed a theme of nostalgia, or evocation of a Europe that is stylized or partly imaginary.  Karg began with Hugo Wolf’s setting of “Kennst du das Land” – I absorbed this song as something performed at the end of recitals, and so it always feels like a novelty when a performer places it first. The song has a series of low-lying passages, and one could hear the transitions in range grow easier as the song progressed and the singer’s voice warmed up. (This is one of the things I love about live performances – you can hear how singing works.) This was followed by a set from Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch and another from his Spanisches Liederbuch. I always enjoy Wolf’s songs – so many of them are so deliciously scarcastic and funny. And it’s always worthwhile paying attention to the piano part too; in “Ich hab in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen” the piano gets the final comment, and Martineau (as usual) performed this with style and humor.

The transition from this part of the program to the next was very neatly done; it moved from Wolf’s songs about Spain, with their sometimes deliberately “Spanish” vibe to actual Spanish songs, in Spanish, by Jesús Guridi. This set, Seis canciónes castellanas had some really excellent moments, e.g. the lyrical and slightly lower-lying “No quiero tus avellanas”, and the elegant phrasing in the last song, “Mañanita de San Juan.” (Karg’s final encore, “Nana,” was also in Spanish, and had a lot of charming little turns and ornaments – she has a flair for this material.)

The second half of the program was songs in French by Duparc, Ravel, Hahn, Charles Koechlin and Poulenc. I particularly liked the drift of one phrase into the next in Poulenc’s “Hotel,” which is about wanting to smoke; but the most interesting part of these songs, for me anyway, was Duparc’s French setting of Mignon’s song, i.e. “Kennst du das Land.” Duparc’s setting of the repeated “Le connais-tu, le connais-tu?” (“Do you know it? Do you know it?”) has a very different feel from Wolf’s or Schubert’s. Both of those German versions express hope for something that may be far off, but feels bright and shining and somehow real. Duparc’s setting feels more plaintive and darker – is that land really there?

All told, I enjoyed this program. Karg’s style isn’t the no-holds-barred balls-to-the-wall type Lieder singing that I love most, but there is substance there.