Barbara Hannigan: The Legend Grows in an Intimate Setting


Barbara Hannigan, the Canadian soprano, with the Dutch pianist Reinbert de Leeuw at the Park Avenue Armory. Credit Da Ping Luo

It may seem perverse, after two superb recitals featuring the incomparable Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, to dwell first on the work of her collaborator, the Dutch pianist Reinbert de Leeuw. But Mr. de Leeuw, 79, a well-rounded musician probably best known as a conductor, devised the first program, and he somewhat dominated the second.

On Thursday evening the two offered a well-traveled program of music from the waning days of the great Romantic Viennese lieder tradition, around the turn of the 20th century, in the intimate Board of Officers Room of the Park Avenue Armory: songs by Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, Alexander Zemlinsky, Alma Mahler and Hugo Wolf. And on Saturday afternoon, they presented two barely classifiable works by the French eccentric Erik Satie in the armory’s even more intimate Veterans Room: “Uspud” (1892), a shadow-play “Christian ballet”; and “Socrate” (1919), a “symphonic drama” for four female singers and chamber orchestra, typically performed by a single singer and pianist, as Satie first presented it.

“Uspud” — perhaps a parody of Flaubert’s “Temptation of St. Anthony,” the program notes suggest — is fitted with an elaborate scenario in which Uspud, a persecutor of Christians, converts to Christianity only to be torn apart by demons, his soul thus freed to join Christ in heaven. In the first of two performances on Saturday, Mr. de Leeuw played the piece, a half-hour long, with suitably inscrutable expression as Ms. Hannigan mimed a sort of funereal ritual around it. The rudimentary staging evidently drew on a production of “Socrate” created for the performers by Krzysztof Warlikowski in Warsaw in 2016.

Ms. Hannigan led the audience into the room from a darkened corridor, carrying a candle, which she eventually doused before rising to a recessed balcony. As she began singing “Socrate,” she returned to the floor and hovered compellingly around the pianist, even turning pages for him a couple of times. Mr. de Leeuw resumed his deadpan manner — appropriate, too, to Socrates’s stoicism — until the end, when, following Ms. Hannigan’s description of the philosopher’s death, he gave added emphasis to his last notes to shattering effect.

In contrast on Thursday, with just as little external display, Mr. de Leeuw traced the shifting moods of the lieder program closely, from the ironically playful chattering of Zemlinsky’s “Tiefe Sehnsucht” (“Deep Longing”) to the Chopin-esque lead-in to Alma Mahler’s “Ich wandle unter Blumen” (“I Wander Among the Flowers”), where he provided a luxurious cushion for Ms. Hannigan’s monotone opening.

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