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Jennifer Johnson Cano

The recital by striking mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano, presented by Young Concert Artists on Monday night, formed a pleasing diptych with that of another mezzo, Kate Lindsey, last week. Both singers have come out of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and have sung roles in the Met's productions. Both have an engaging stage presence and a natural sense of drama, and both have the vocal chops to make you sit up and listen, albeit for different reasons. We were impressed with Cano last fall, when she was just Jennifer Johnson, in one of the Musicians from Marlboro concerts at the Freer Gallery of Art -- the only place you could have read about it was here, and it turned out to be featured as one of the Top 10 live concerts of last year.

Cano squeezed the aria Alto Giove, from Porpora's Polifemo (another operatic setting of the story of Acis and Galatea), for every ounce of drama possible. Her expressive face and gestures communicated the intensity of this impassioned plea, as Acis gives thanks to Jupiter for the gift of immortality, and she showed impressive control of an instrument that sounded larger and seemed to have more zoom to it than last fall. Her pianist Christopher Cano, who also happens to be her husband, was often at the edge of being too loud, even with the Steinway's lid closed: although his playing was accomplished and musically sensitive, there is a soft pedal on the instrument, and he should experiment with it. He did bring a varied palette of colors to the piano arrangement of Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and the full-throated accompaniment was often needed to support the vocal line (in the big crescendo outbursts in the second and third songs, for example). Ms. Cano's voice here sounded much fuller in its upper range and had greater bloom there: in fact, the relative softness of the chest voice, heard finally at the end of the last song, seemed to indicate a voice tending toward the dramatic side of the mezzo-soprano voice, the exact opposite of what one heard from Kate Lindsey.

Other Articles:

Cecelia Porter, Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano’s talent has depth (Washington Post, April 13)

Young Concert Artists Presents Jennifer Johnson Cano in NY Recital Debut 5/2 (Broadway World, April 4)

Zachary Woolfe, Youth Finds Comfort Alongside Experience (New York Times, March 31)

Charles T. Downey, Musicians from Marlboro (Ionarts, October 27)
Ravel's Cinq Mélodies Populaires Grecques have been favorite songs for me since hearing Elly Ameling sing them (a well-worn disc in my collection, released on the Erato label, ECD 75324, and no longer available). They are marvelously concise, evocatively harmonized settings of Greek folk song texts, provided to Ravel by the Greek-born critic M. D. Calvocoressi, and Cano gave them a slightly rough-edged earthiness but kept some of the ethereal qualities of the dreamier songs. The main point of comparison to the Kate Lindsey recital was Cano's performance of another song cycle by Dominick Argento: after the wry, pleasing Miss Manners on Music, Cano chose the much more ponderous From the Diary of Virginia Woolf. The words selected are not Woolf's most poetic or profound, although there are tart and significant observations (and the stunning excerpt from her final entry, before drowning herself), but Argento ruminates over each phrase with a spare, almost humorless approach, nowhere more astringently so than in the sixth song, with its machine-gun treble repeated notes over a dry recitative about the war. Argento the musical mimic comes to the fore again, with a jazzy or Chopinesque background in the piano that morphs into a melancholy tango and back again in the fifth song, with touches of folk mandolin strumming, as well as a neo-Baroque accompaniment that signals the older lifestyle of Woolf's parents. A Roger Quilter song, Music, when soft voices die (op. 25/5, text by Percy Shelley), served as encore.

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