Soprano Park makes charismatic Washington debut with Vocal Arts DC

Thu Oct 25, 2018 at 11:59 pm

Soprano Hyesang Park performed Thursday night for Vocal Arts DC. Photo: Dario Acosta

Vocal Arts DC specializes in Washington debuts with the younger singers it presents each season. The latest was one to remember, a recital by Hyesang Park, a recent graduate of Juilliard and the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist program.

The South Korean soprano charmed the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Thursday with a wide-ranging program of songs in English, German, French, and Spanish.

Park’s voice is exceedingly clean in terms of intonation and tone, a beautifully contained vibrato never obscuring the center of the pitch. She opened strong with a pair of challenging arias by Purcell, which suited her instrument the best of everything on the program. She may not be thought of yet as an early music specialist, but she clearly knows her way around ornamentation, interpolating some thrilling high notes into a grandly paced “Music for a while.”

Pianist Ken Noda was equally unpredictable at the keyboard, adding embellishments and surprising with sudden loud or staccato attacks. He proved consummately sensitive to his soloist’s shifts of tempo but tended to overwhelm her more lyric voice with too much sound at times.

Park smoothed out the edges from her approach to Purcell with a more flowing legato in a set of songs by Clara Schumann. Her pronunciation in all languages featured was not flawless, a minor fault, but she sang with a clear understanding of the words. Exceptionally composed on stage, she did not stray into too much overacting in the first half,  a common pitfall for young singers, which can be distracting in a recital. Park performed the Schumann set in a different order than that listed in the program, creating some momentary confusion for audience members.

Park’s French set seemed more effortful, both in terms of diction and interpretation. Noda tended to rush the tempo too often, unsettling what should have been a more organic unfolding of some of the songs. Park’s top register pinched slightly as a result, especially in Fauré’s “Nell,” something that had not happened at all in the English or German songs.

The high point in the French selections was a pair of Reynaldo Hahn songs, beginning with a slow, graceful “A Chloris,” exquisitely phrased. Hitting just the right combination of natural elegance was a stellar rendition of the less-known “L’Enamourée,” where both singer and pianist locked into an easy, unaffected pace. Poulenc’s Métamorphoses, three surrealist poems given impressive musical variety by both performers, provided a dramatic conclusion to the first half, here manic, there obscured by rose-colored smoke, and with great virtuosity by both musicians.

Least successful was a second half of Spanish songs, although Park approached them with a fiery sense of rhythmic freedom. The soaring top notes of “No lloréis ojucios,” by Granados, caused some strain in Park’s voice. Directly following the Granados set, Fernando Obradors’ “Con amores, la mi madre” was a much better fit, showcasing the soprano’s velvety soft side.

In Montsalvatge’s “Canción de la cuna,” Park mimed the action of rocking a baby too obviously, while not giving enough attention to the musical demands for a murmuring legato in this lullaby. Range of vocal color was also lacking in Turina’s “Poema en la forma de canciones,” something that will surely develop as this talented artist embarks on what promises to be a fine career. 

Encores revealed Park’s penchant for popular music: after a Korean song called “Lie Hwa Woo,” Park gave a spirited, girlish performance of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.

Vocal Arts DC presents baritone John Brancy and pianist Peter Dugan 7:30 p.m. November 12.; 202-669-1463

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