Tuesday, March 7, 2017

“Rarely performed gems” from Katarzyna Sadej and Basia Bochenek


First Fridays at First!, First Lutheran Church, Torrance

Katarzyna Sadej (left), Basia Bochenek (right)
Words like “neglected” and “rarely performed” are catnip to this reviewer, and the line-up of items thus described for the March “First Fridays at First!” recital, by mezzo-soprano Katarzyna Sadej accompanied by Basia Bochenek, certainly formed an intriguing bunch. To begin at the beginning, how refreshing to find a tango on a concert program not by Piazzolla! I never knew there was a Polish tango tradition, but a quick Google search revealed quite a vogue for the genre there in the ‘20s, and its leading composer was Jerzy Petersburski.

Petersburski’s To Ostatnia Niedziela (“The Last Sunday”) and Ty i Moja Gitara (“You And My Guitar”) opened and closed the recital – amiable and engaging enough, but neither stretching or really revealing the potential of Ms Sadej’s voice. This came with two marvelous songs by Lili Boulanger, who died in 1918 at the tragically early age of 24. She truly was one of 20th century music’s great might-have-beens, but even so her composing span of only eight years yielded a harvest of, mostly, vocal and choral works that would grace the career of anyone; if only there were more.

Attente (“Expectation”) and Reflets (“Reflections”) were written when Lili Boulanger was still in her teens; in both, elaborate arpeggiated accompaniments from Ms Bochenek underpinned the steady unspooling of long, unpredictable and deeply expressive vocal lines that revealed Ms Sadej’s depth and range. Reflets in particular unleashed rich chest notes that were thrilling to hear.

The pair of Boulanger songs led naturally into the yet more passionate world of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. It seemed slightly odd to hear just the last two of them, Schmerzen (“Sorrows”) and Träume (“Dreams”) divorced from the rest, but then music history seems undecided whether the total of five form a genuine cycle or are just a group of individual songs. Either way, these small-scale glimpses into the soundworld of music-drama’s greatest composer was a reminder that Ms Sadej is currently sing the role of Page of Herodias in his illustrious successor’s Salome at LA Opera; the intensity and vocal security that she brought to these songs – indeed to the whole recital – was an urgent nudge to get tickets.

I wasn’t particularly struck by the one contemporary song on the program, Tom Cipullo’s A White Rose, but the following and penultimate item, before Ms Sadej once more leaned back seductively against the piano and smolderingly revisited the world of Polish tango, was a salutary reminder that the mighty Finnish symphonist Jean Sibelius was a great writer of songs as well. I had never before heard Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte (“The girl returned from meeting her lover”) and had no idea where it came in his output, but something about the generous curve of its melodic line reminded me of the Second Symphony; so on later investigation I was somewhat smugly pleased to find that they were more or less contemporary…

This concise but very satisfying vocal recital, delivered unusually without any spoken intros by the performers, made an interesting change from Classical Crossroads Inc’s usual concentration on instrumental concerts for its two series, “First Fridays at First!” and “The Interludes” at First Lutheran Church in Torrance. More, please, if they are as good as this. 


“First Fridays at First!”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, March 3, 2017.
 Photo: Courtesy Kasia and Basia

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