He must come back.

By: Mar. 12, 2021
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Review: ARYEH NUSSBAUM COHEN: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2021 at Adelaide Town Hall Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Tuesday 9th March 2021.

Adelaide, Adelaide, (everlovin' Adelaide, is taking a chance on me). That song, from Guys and Dolls, written for Frank Sinatra, was the encore to a fascinating recital by the young American countertenor, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, who came to Adelaide to be Oberon in the Adelaide Festival production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Neil Armfield was taking no chances when he employed Cohen, as they'd worked together before in Handel's Saul, and will reconnect when the New York Metropolitan presents Brett Dean's Hamlet. The Adelaide Festival has a long history of presenting countertenors on the opera stage, Death in Venice, Flight, The Grand Macabre, and Saul.

It is still, however, an unusual sound, and Cohen's recital, wide-ranging in choice, brought that bright timbre to repertoire not usually found in the countertenor catalogue. Alfred Deller and his successors cornered the market in Shakespeare songs, but Cohen chose three lyrics, set to music by Roger Quilter, for voice and piano. These were popular recital pieces some decades ago, and it was a great pleasure to hear them again.

The choice for Cohens's associate artist was a stroke of genius. Konstantin Shamray, the winner of the Sydney International Piano Competition, was ideal. The affectionate way the two men hugged at the end of the performance makes me hope for more collaborations between these two gifted individuals.

The Quilter songs were followed by songs by the contemporary American composer, H Leslie Adams, which I'm tracking down on Youtube for a second listen. His bracket of four Brahms lieder was a revelation, as he poured passion to such songs as In Meine Nachte Sehnen opus 57 number 5, with an energy unexpected in a voice type still characterised by restraint. He finished the first half with two songs that came from his synagogue life, Max Janowski's Avinu Malkeinu, begging us not to compare him to Barbra Streisand, and Maurice Ravel's setting of the Kaddish prayer.

After the interval, he brought the music of Handel, music that has given countertenors such a rich repertoire. O Lord, Whose Mercies Numberless, from Saul, with Shamray's delicate touch, harp-like on the Steinway. Then Shamray got to thump out, triumphantly, the piano reduction of Vivi, Tyranno, from Rodelinda, and Cohen sailed through the challenges of the coloratura effortlessly.

The next bracket was the real surprise of the evening. The three melodies chosen from the works of Henri Duparc were magical. The music flowed suavely from the two musicians. The refrain of L'invitation au Voyage, by Baudelaire is la tout n'est qu'ordre et beaute, luxe, calme et volupte, all is orderly and beautiful, luxurious, calm and voluptuous. This could, itself, pass as a description of the concert.

He finished with three songs from the Great American Songbook, Misty, Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered, and I Get a Kick Out of You. The encore was that song from Guys and Dolls. It was either that or the Beethoven Adelaide, and I'm glad he went Broadway. His poise and personality fitted that song so sincerely. For this bracket, he and Shamray took off their ties and had unbuttoned fun. When the bottom drops out of the classical music market, they can go cabaret.

He must come back. He and Konstantin should do another recital. Let's have some Bach, Handel's Solomon and The Choice of Hercules, Claire de Lune, by Faure, and You'll Never Walk Alone. Team him with a lutenist, or a Grigoryan, or two Grigoryans, for the Elizabethan repertoire.

There was evidently foyer gossip about the casting of a countertenor as Oberon. Why was it done? Benjamin Britten created the role for the notable English countertenor, Alfred Deller, who was disappointed not to be cast in the Covent Garden revival, replaced by the American Russell Oberlin, and the English mezzo-soprano, Josephine Veasey.

The concert started almost fifteen minutes late. Evidently, when the concert was first announced, there were solid restrictions on seating, with individuals separated by an empty seat on both sides. Lifting those restrictions meant more tickets could be sold, but couples frequently found themselves with a stranger between them. I moved to allow one of my favourite sopranos to sit beside her husband. I wonder if the sudden increase in ticket sales has anything to do with the fact that, once Adelaide heard Cohen as Oberon, they wanted more.

Oh yes, a year into the pandemic and some people still don't know how to wear their masks.