Young soprano sparks New World’s French and Spanish program

By Lawrence Budmen

Julia Bullock performed Sunday afternoon with members of the New World Symphony.

Music from Spain and France conveying impressions of the Iberian peninsula dominated the New World Symphony’s chamber program on Sunday but the thrilling singing of a young American soprano was the afternoon’s major event.

Ravel’s Three Poems of Stéphane Mallarmé is one of the French impressionist’s most strikingly original works. Scored for a similar chamber ensemble as Schoenberg’s groundbreaking Pierrot Lunaire, Ravel set three of the elliptical writings of the French poet. Filled with adventurous harmonies and jagged melodic lines, the songs are a formidable test of the singer’s vocal range and communicative powers.

Julia Bullock is a rising star who counts Dawn Upshaw, Jessye Norman, Eric Owens and José Van Dam among her mentors. Bullock’s large, deep-textured instrument easily filled the New World Center. Her refined sonority, flexibility and ethereal high register took flight in “Sigh.” In “Futile Petition,” her voice blended almost as an orchestral instrument with the tonal warmth of the strings.

The angular melodies of “Rising Up from its Haunch and Flank” (which pictures an empty vase) were imbued with edgy intensity and sheer beauty of sound. Bullock’s lower voice almost had the depth of a mezzo. New World conducting fellow Christian Reif brought out Ravel’s subtly detailed instrumental colors in a well balanced reading.

Bullock returned, in the program’s second half, for Manuel de Falla’s Psyche which sets the myth of Psyche and Eros in Granada, the music reflecting both French and Spanish influences. Bullock brought great emotion to the alternately lyrical and astringent writing while maintaining purity of tone. Flutist Masha Popova and harpist Julia Coronelli exhibited firm control, articulating the long, high-pitched writing reminiscent of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro.

In an afternoon of outstanding playing by the New World fellows, flutist Popova and keyboard players John Wilson and Aya Yamamoto were stand outs.

Besides playing the Ravel and De Falla scores with firmness and agile dexterity, Popova breezed through the prominent flute role in Florence Schmitt’s moody Lied and Scherzo. In the featured horn part, David Raschella showed fine tonal gleam and commanded the fleeting lyrical sections as well as the fanfare-like calls.

De Falla’s Harpsichord Concerto, one of the Spanish master’s finest scores, inventively mixes neo-Baroque touches with folksy Spanish rhythms and tart harmonies. In both the spiky changes of meter in the opening movement and the spare, modal writing of the Adagio, Wilson was a technically accomplished harpsichordist, giving expert attention to the rhythmic twists.

Wilson and Yamamoto displayed fine teamwork in Ravel’s Sites auriculaires. Yamamoto’s lovely tone and elegant detailing distilled the languid atmosphere of the Habanera. The duo tore into the pounding opening chords of Among Bells with urgency but also brought special delicacy to the more poetic passages.

Ravel’s Trio in A minor is a bonafide masterpiece and the thrusting performance by violinist Lisa Kim, cellist Julia Yang and Yamamoto did full justice to this iconic work. Indeed it was hard to believe the threesome were not a seasoned trio. Yang’s deep tone and Yang’s precision and near-perfect intonation were a fine combination with Yamamoto’s more extroverted pianism. In the brisk Pantoum and weighted Passacaglia, the players astutely mined the music’s impressionistic roots, tempered with classical restraint.

The New World Symphony chamber series continues 2 p.m. March 20 at the New World Center in Miami Beach. The program features Stravinsky’s Eight Instrumental Miniatures, Thuille’s Sextet for Piano and Winds, Schnittke’s Canon in Memory of Stravinsky and Shostakovich’s Piano Quartet with guest artist Inon Barnatan. 305-673-3331

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Mon Feb 29, 2016
at 8:30 pm
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