RECORDINGS & AUDIO CLIPS
The Boston Musical Intelligencer
OCTOBER 15, 2012
History and Song at the Gardner
by CASHMAN KERR PRINCE
"The final artist to appear was James Martin, baritone, who sang with solid support and a sweet voice which had the virtue of seeming natural and wholly unaffected. (It is a true testament to artifice, high mastery of artistic training, that it effaces itself and seems natural.)"
THE WASHINGTON POST
Performing arts reviews
Monday, February 14, 2011
New York Festival of Song
If you flip through the more than 100 programs that pianist, coach, scholar and impresario Steven Blier has crafted for his New York Festival of Song productions over the years, it is clear that the night and all its possibilities loom large in his imagination. The recital-cum-theater piece that Blier and his artistic partner, Michael Barrett, brought to the University of Maryland's small Gildenhorn Recital Hall on Saturday, titled "Night & Day/USA: Americans Working and Dreaming," featured sleep, or lack of, as a framework for songs of work's pleasures and drudgeries, its humor and humiliations.
These were all American songs - the oldest one, Ives's gentle setting of "In the Morning" - and
most fit comfortably into the cabaret category. But Blier has always embraced good popular song with
the same seriousness and respect he has accorded the art song repertoire, and the evening's splendid performances - by soprano Sari Gruber, mezzo-soprano Liza Forrester and baritone James Martin (with
a cameo appearance by tenor Joe Shadday, a University of Maryland graduate student) - were as notable
for their musical subtlety as they were or their sharp and deliciously spicy theatricality.
In songs by Bernstein and Bolcum, Weill, Rorem, Hoiby, Cole Porter, Waits and others (some songs that Blier dug deeply to unearth), diction was immaculate. There was as much power expressed in the softest lines of Jerry Leiber's "I Ain't Here" as there was tenderness in the robustness of Porter's "Dream Dancing" - and it was in "Dream Dancing" that Blier took the wraps off his pianism and let loose on Porter's swing with exuberant sexuality.
Blier, who shared the accompanying role with Barrett, was, as usual, also the master of ceremonies, knitting the program together with a sophisticated humor and self-revelatory philosophy that gave the evening a feeling of having been a gathering of friends.
- Joan Reinthaler
Spox Vox Reax
Posted on February 17, 2011 by gtra1n
Fundamentally what the Met is known for is singing. In that, they have an interesting companion, and possibly a rival, in the New York Festival of Song. NYFOS is holding their second night of the program "Night and Day/USA: Americans Working and Dreaming" tonight at 8PM at Merkin Hall. The first was everything that I have come to expect from a NYFOS concert: a program of simply great songs, laid out in a narrative full of musical and emotional intelligence, presented with humor and humanity by Steven Blier and, of course, with great singing. On Tuesday, the voices were soprano Sari Gruber, mezzo Liza Forrester and baritone James Martin, with help from tenor Christopher Tiesi and additional accompaniment from NYFOS co-founder Michael Barrett.
A NYFOS concert is not just singing, it’s performing, and I give Blier a great deal of credit for that. He is clearly a marvelous coach, not only adding judicious theatrical touches and bits of choreography, but opening up great musical charisma that is part of the evening. The singers become the characters in the songs and the performances become deeply human. The idea of people waking up in the morning, going off to work and heading home to bed in the end was conveyed through songs that covered the twentieth century from
Charles Ives "In The Morning," sung with exquisite control and plangent feeling by Gruber, to a selection of four of Kurt Weill’s songs from Broadway, to a recent and lovely song, "The Night You Decided To Stay," from composer Steve Marzullo. In between there were some real discoveries of obscure material and fantastic performances of truly great songs: Hall Johnson’s "On The Dusty Road," with a lyric from Langston Hughes in a "Wow!" performance from Martin, a great setting of an Elizabeth Bishop poem by Lee Hoiby, "Insomnia," and the brilliant choice of Tom Waits’ "I Can’t Wait to Get Off Work (And See My Baby on Montgomery Avenue)," a song that, when removed from Waits’ own overwhelmingly distinctive voice and placed in the hands of Martin, Barrett and Blier, is revealed as a great song, proof that Waits is one of America's greatest songwriters of any generation.
These are particulars, though, and the ultimate point is that a NYFOS concert is one of the greatest pleasures you can have hearing music. The singing is so fine and the performances are so welcoming and expressive that they make everything sound and feel like a masterpiece.