Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eugene Brancoveanu: A Musical Interlude

  •  Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu (photograph by Robert Bengtson courtesy of Barrett Vantage Artists)
 Last Sunday I was lucky enough to be invited to baritone Eugene Brancoveanu's last performance at the SF Conservatory of Music. Every time I go there, I am marvel at how well the the small recital hall is designed, full of light and elegant modern design, but still containing enough of the original Oak St. structure to be more interesting than the usual modern interior. I had never heard Brancoveanu and my friends said that I was in for a treat. They were right. Brancoveanu, a former Adler fellow, has a charismatic presence  and is very good looking, but it's the voice that captivated me. It's rich, dark, deep and thrilling but with a top range which he used well in some of the pieces. As Jason Victor Serinus wrote:

High notes shone at full volume, and were equally gorgeous when voiced softly. Legato was impeccable, as was the ability to build phrases and sustain tension. Although the voice occasionally faltered on softly sustained highs, the performance was immensely gratifying

He began with Russian composer Georgy Sviridov’s 12-song cycle, Russia Cast Adrift (1987). I thought it was a perfect choice for his resonant baritone and hearing it in the small space made the experience even more powerful. He appeared to be reading the text as he sang. Nevertheless,  the effect was emotional, with every song given a full measure of Russian soul. I think that the program incorrectly attributed the music to Elgar; when I went looking for recordings, I discovered that the music was by Rachmaninoff which makes a lot more sense. There was nothing English about this music and when he was singing, I was often close to tears with the melancholy and love expressed through music.

This was followed by Ravel's "Don Quichotte À Dulcinée," with each song presented as a separate character sketch, which showed off his command of French as well as his acting skills. After the intermission, we were treated three Schubert songs - "The Gnome," "Upon the far Horizon," and "The Erl-King." I'm not a big fan of Schubert lieder but I admired his technique, his command of German and his acting skills as he pantomimed each song's narrative - and a pretty grim set of tales they were !  Apparently, while the Russians go for soul, the Germans go for the gruesome. It must have something to do with those Teutonic forests.

Brancoveanu's diction is very clear and I was very impressed by his linguistic skills - Russian, French and German. I even thought I could understand the German!  The encore was Strauss' Zueignung ("Ja, du weißt es, teure Seele"). The only flaw in the program came from the audience where some nitwit forgot to turn off his (or her) cell phone.

Afterward, we floated out, avoided the Bay--to-Breakers crowd and had a celebratory glass of champagne and a cheese plate at Arlequin on Hays St. It was too chilly to sit outside so we drank our champagne and listened to my friend, who was married to a musician and whose three children are professional musicians, go over the concert again - with a four star review!

We were driven out when the staff decided to turn up the volume on some coarse rap music. After what we had just heard, that was too painful to endure. 

Joshua Korman's at SF Gate: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/05/17/DDLU1DG03R.DTL#ixzz0oIdMb1Xo

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