Kiera Duffy, Jennifer Johnson Cano, John Bellemer, Jesse Blumberg & Luis Magalhães
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Kiera Duffy, Jennifer Johnson Cano, John Bellemer, Jesse Blumberg & Luis Magalhães

Tertulia Chamber Music

THE WORD “TERTULIA” originated in Spain and Latin America to describe a social gathering, often in a bar or restaurant, with a musical, literary or artistic bent. The innovative brainchild of founder and co-artistic director Julia Villagra, Tertulia Chamber Music serves up its performances between courses of a three-course prix fixe dinner at rotating restaurants in New York City, most recently at Cubana Social in Brooklyn on October 19. Villagra’s model is inspired, designed to double as a user-friendly introduction for classical music newbies and an opportunity for experienced listeners to enjoy chamber music in an intimate setting. The printed program offered the basics of performance etiquette, and Villagra made it clear that even though socializing both in person and on media was encouraged during the meal, full attention to the stage was expected during the performances. “Don’t try to signal to a waiter,” she warned, “because they’re under strict instructions to ignore you.” 

As ingenious a concept as this is, it would never fly without first-rate performers, and happily, Villagra and co-artistic director James Austin Smith assembled a terrific roster to perform Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole, assorted Strauss songs, and selections from Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52. Kiera Duffy, Jennifer Johnson Cano, John Bellemer, and Jesse Blumberg sang the Brahms with vibrant energy and a juicy blend that unified their disparate vocal colors. Duffy’s silvery soprano paired enticingly with Cano’s russet mezzo, while Blumberg’s mellow baritone grounded Bellemer’s brassy tenor. Whether declaiming fortissimo in “Am Gesteine rauscht die Flut” or rising to an emotional quiver in “Wenn so lind dein Auge mir,” their phrasing and dynamics were coordinated with grace and precision.” Some of the missing songs left noticeable holes to the knowledgeable ear, particularly “Schlosser auf, und mache Schlösser” which should come as an attacca to “Nein, es ist nicht auszukommen.” In fact, it was clear from the response of the rapt audience, who seemed awakened too early from a delightful dream, that the traffic would easily have borne the missing five songs.

Duffy opened the Strauss selections with an exuberant, joyous “Ständchen” and followed that with an adorably innocent “Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden” and a shimmering, wondrous “Morgen.” Bellemer’s vocal heft served him well in “Allerseelen” and “Zueignung,” although in the former, it was the nuanced touch of pianist Luis Magalhães that drew the ear. Blumberg’s affable presence and direct delivery made “Das Rosenband” and “Du meines Herzens Krönelein” seem like friendly confidences. Magalhães’s partner on the bench was his wife, Nina Schumann, and they took the spotlight in the Ravel four-hander, which opened the evening. “Prélude à la nuit” was moody and torpid, while the “Habañera” had an easy sultriness and the closing “Feria” was fiery and rapacious. It seemed like exactly the sort of piece one might hear in a club. But Tertulia’s point is that all chamber music could be enjoyed this way. If music come with food to love, play on!  —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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