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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Jennifer Johnson Cano & Christopher Cano

Tertulia Chamber Music

Jennifer Johnson Cano’s opera roles this season have included Hänsel, Nicklausse and Carmen’s Mercedes at the Met, with Donna Elvira scheduled at the BLO in May. On March 30, the mezzo traded the large opera-house venues for a small, intimate one, a concert at Harding’s restaurant in New York City. The event was part of the Tertulia Chamber Music series, which presents some of the best young rising stars, such as Cano and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, in liederabends (song-evenings) interspersed with dinner and drinks in intimate restaurants. 

The evening began with Cano and her husband, pianist Christopher Cano, performing three songs from Canteloube’s five-volume Chants d’Auvergne, a collection of folk songs the composer arranged for voice and piano. In the first song, “L’Antouèno,” the piano began by overwhelming the voice just slightly, perhaps an effect of the artists’ adjusting to the unusual space — a restaurant in which the piano was next to the bar and the steam in the old piping produced a somewhat disruptive clanking noise throughout the evening. This slight mishap was short-lived, and for the rest of the evening, piano and voice fit together ideally. The Canteloube songs perhaps found Cano most in her expressive element: she is a mesmerizing actress, fully committed to her text. For the Canteloube selections, she herself translated the Auvergne dialect into English for the program notes, an accomplishment that only strengthened her connection to the songs’ characters: she knows what she is singing, why she’s singing it and to whom she is singing.  As a result, she allows emotion to propel her voice into glorious moments. In “La Delaïssádo,” the shepherdess’s lover does not come to meet her, and she is devastated, as were Cano’s listeners. 

Barber’s Three Songs, Op. 10, music set to the poetry of James Joyce, found Cano’s piano and forte moments both equally warm and voluptuous. Her English diction was crisp and clear, so much so that the words printed in the program were superfluous. The Barber selections were also a demonstration of her technique and control. Her exquisite vibrato is neither too quick nor fluttery. The top of her range has no pinch or stridency, and yet she is able to deploy the depths of her range for rich, dark low notes, which allowed her to convey passion to the point of torture in “Rain Has Fallen.” It also helps that she has enormously expressive eyes and a voice that, somehow, never overwhelmed the space, despite her instrument’s size. In “I Hear an Army,” she packed the room with the feeling of a trudging soldier by means of specifically calculated rhythmic patterns and stresses. Brahms’s Viola Songs gave way for Cano’s well-analyzed phrasing. She moves her lines with purpose: each phrase builds on the last. 

The buzz of the evening was a world premiere work by the young composer Timo Andres, who has already written a great deal of chamber music and released a successful album, Home Stretch, in 2013. The five-minute work, “Schubertiana,” is for voice, piano, horn and viola. The text, translated into English, is based on the poetry of the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer — who died just four days before the premiere of this piece. Andres has written little for the voice, and the vocal music he has written seems to skew toward pop; his 2013piece, Work Songs, was sung by the jazz/folk singer Becca Stevens, who also played guitar for the piece. As a result, “Schubertiana” did not play to Cano’s immense strengths. Although Cano has a low range, this piece seemed more for an alto-crooner than a full-voiced mezzo-soprano. To fit to the piece, Cano had to hold back her natural power and forceful timbre, trading it instead for a smaller sound that blended together with the piano, horn and viola. Instead of making her sound diminished, Andres should have perhaps focused on Cano’s agility and strengths — of which she certainly has many. spacer 


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