Review: John Brancy and Mario Antonio Marra at Hahn Hall

2013 Marilyn Horne Song Competition Winners Performed March 4

This recital was dessert in both senses of the word: sweetness and deservingness. For one, it was payout time for an award bestowed last July when Music Academy of the West fellows — namely baritone John Brancy and pianist Mario Antonio Marra — took the grand prize at the Marilyn Horne Song Competition. Hahn Hall on Tuesday was the first stop in an all-expenses paid mini-tour that took the fortunate and talented duo to Broad Stage in Santa Monica late last week and onto The National Opera Center in New York City this coming weekend. But the Music Academy of the West is home court, and a packed hall gave a spirited reception to the two alums and their showcase set, which included lieder by Robert Schumann, songs by Antonín Dvořák, selections from the American songbook, and a world-premiere work composed by Chris Kapica.

The 16 songs of Schumann’s Dichterliebe, that most beloved of song cycles, paint every color of love from hope to heartbreak, infatuation to cynicism, and are written with exquisite sensitivity to the text by poet Heinrich Heine. The balanced interplay between singer and instrument resemble more of a duet than a singer with accompaniment, which made for an ideal (and bold) opening half. Brancy’s singular baritone and the way he carries attitude and mood onstage reveal the young artist’s depth and balance. Marra’s treatments of silences and Schumann’s brooding instrumental afterthoughts were of equal voice. Two lyrical narratives from Dvořák’s seldom heard Modern Greek Poems sung in Czech followed.

But the evening is most memorable, perhaps, for the hit world premiere of Force by Brancy’s longtime friends, composer Chris Kapica and poet Robert Corsini. Conveying an awakening from the moral and spiritual slumber of modern mechanized life, Force bristles with alarms and surprises in diction, mood, and tonality.

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