“This seemed very much an equal collaboration, even down to the women’s striking outfits, both designed by Austin Scarlett . . .
Ms. Leonard sounded confident in this repertory, with works like Falla’s “Siete canciones populares españolas” demonstrating the scope of her sultry . . . plummy lower notes to silvery higher range. She imbued each of the selections on the program with dramatic flair and contrast, opening with three of Federico García Lorca’s “Canciones españolas antiguas.” She took on the air of a storyteller in other songs by Lorca, like “Los mozos de Monléon.” In “Las morillas de Jaén,” she lingered seductively on the name “Marién.” She sang with blazing power in “La Tarara” and with intimacy in selections from Montsalvatge’s “Canciónes negras.”
The lineup also featured the premiere of Richard Danielpour’s appealing “… Of Love and Longing,” set to three texts by Rumi. Evocative and melodic, his songs complemented the Spanish works: The passionate, declamatory “This Night of Love” contrasted with the gentle lilt of “Your Beauty.” An encore, Agustín Lara’s “Granada,” concluded the evening on a vibrant note.”
Vivien Schweitzer – The New York Times
“At the intermission of Isabel Leonard and Sharon Isbin’s recital in Zankel Hall on Thursday, one satisfied listener remarked, “This has been a really nice change of pace.”
. . . With such formidable proponents as Leonard and Isbin, one hopes that such recitals in the future will be less “change of pace” and more of a regular attraction.
Leonard is a true treasure . . . immensely talented and charismatic . . . already one of the world’s leading artists though still relatively early in her career. Although she has made her name thus far almost exclusively as an operatic singer, her recital with Isbin on Thursday proved a truly enchanting evening of song.
Leonard showed a commanding presence immediately from the start of her first set of Old Spanish Songs by Federico García Lorca. The dark, wood-smoke tone that she brought to these songs was gorgeous, embracing the natural gravel of her lower-middle voice and even adding a little glottal friction here and there for extra color.
Not surprising for so talented an actress, Leonard has a particular gift for narrative, paying keen attention to the text and bringing that understanding into her musical interpretation. The “Romance de Don Boyso,” an extended ballad with a simple, beguiling melody, was haunting; her vivid account, bringing subtle variation to each verse, culminated in a joyful turn in the final stanza . . .
A Carnegie Hall co-commision, Richard Danielpour’s Of Love and Longing, received its world premiere on Thursday. A short cycle of three songs in English, the set hangs together nicely, a complementary mix of moods, all three echoing somewhat the Spanish idiom of the evening in their tonality. “Listen” features a tugging, sighing melody to a limping accompaniment; jaunty syncopations create a whirling dance in “This Night of Love”; “Your Beauty” is a breezy, generous serenade . . .
Of de Falla’s Seven Popular Spanish Songs, “Polo” stood out for its intensity, as Leonard leaned on the harder edge of her voice, to riveting effect. A single item on the program, Joaquín Rodrigo’s somber and heart-wrenching Aranjuez, ma pensée, was sung in French. Leonard’s command of the language is superb, and it suits her voice well, the rich color of her tone filling out the spacious vowels.
Leonard had been a charming emcee for the entire evening, and when met with enthusiastic applause at the conclusion of the program cheekily asked, “Haven’t you all had enough?” “No!”, of course, was the resounding response, and the pair indulged the listeners with one more item, a performance of Augustin Lara’s “Granada” so dramatic that it seemed almost in need of lighting cues.”
Eric C. Simpson – New York Classical Review
” Isabel Leonard traded lyric opera staples for Spanish folk songs, tapping into her Argentinian heritage with a Carnegie Hall recital . . . Under the spotlight, Leonard shone vibrant in a bespoke gown by American fashion designer, Austin Scarlett, who has ornamented opera divas for high-profile openings, concerts and galas . . .
Well-suited to her deep, charismatic lower register, Leonard gave confident expositions of the folkloric Spanish tales, slipping into characterizations as diverse as an impoverished bullfighter or a jealous gypsy. She filled Lorca’s sorrowful ballad, Romance de Don Boyso, with solid phrasing and poise. A passionate, raucous refrain for Anda, jaleo was underpinned by Isbin’s clattering guitar that mimicked castanets.
The prayer of a poor bullfighter in borrowed clothes, Los mozos de Monléon, was imbued with proper sentiment. As a bitter gypsy in Zorongo, smudged, deep plums and musky lower colors ran ragged to dramatic effect . . .
Post-intermission, Richard Danielpour’s varied song cycle triptych, …Of Love and Longing, made its world première. Co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the 125th anniversary of the Commissions Project, Danielpour wrote the work in 2014 specifically for the duo. English lyrics had been translated from three Persian texts by Rumi, and Danielpour’s note-making romanticized dusty, Western pulses – the understated melody Listen… swung to blushing, erotic metaphors of This Night of Love, ending with a leisurely Your Beauty serenade.
Leonard flexed her French muscle for Joaquín Rodrigo’s conservative and somber Aranjuez ma pensée. Following its introspective inflections, she swayed to Cuban-Spanish lullabies and rhythmic poems of Xavier Montsalvatge’s Canciónes negras.
The recital closed with Manuel de Falla’s 1914 Siete canciones populares españolas, sung without a score – Leonard announced that it’d been a long-admired, learned and loved work. On the strident Canción, she dipped into a stunning middle-lower voice, emitting great sentiment on the textual “Madre!”. She ended the cycle with a picante Polo to affirm the Spanish folk music outbursts, followed by an encore of Augustín Lara’s Granada.
High color repertory was matched to high color presence.”
Courtney Smith – Bachtrack.com
“Isabel Leonard and guitarist Sharon Isbin presented a rousing and unusual program of Spanish song at Zankel Hall on November 12. It surprised this listener to learn that the great Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca was a devoted collector and arranger of his country’s indigenous folk songs. Leonard and Isbin performed two sets of these ingratiating, richly harmonized numbers. Among the standouts were “Romance de Don Boyso,” in which a nobleman sets out on his horse seeking romance, and inadvertently discovers his long lost sister. In “Zoronga,” from the second set, Leonard showed fire and flourish as a spurned gypsy girl, then added some sensuality to the mix for “Tarara.” The catchy, invigorating “18th Century Sevillanas del siglo XVIII,” an anthem in praise of Seville, was a crowd-pleasing ending for the set. Leonard displayed her focused, vibrant tone throughout, as her uninterrupted legato lines somehow coexisted with direct, speech-like communication and subtle, well-honed dramatic instincts.
The concert also featured the world premiere of Richard Danielpour’s Of Love and Longing, a cycle of three songs to texts by the legendary Persian poet Rumi, in English translations by Raficq Abdullah. Danielpour’s songs, in keeping with the evening’s concept, revealed a Spanish flavor, complete with vocal melismas and some flamenco-style accompaniment. The second song, “This Night of Love,” had an unexpectedly Beatles-esque intro, and a high-lying vocal line that was incantatory and compelling. Danielpour’s melodies were well-contoured for Leonard’s shimmering timbre . . .
The Joaquín Rodrigo work that followed, Aranjuez ma pensée, is based on the second movement of his famous guitar concerto. Rodrigo’s wife Victoria provided the text for this adaptation. Poignant and beautiful, it seems to have both French and Spanish influences (the text is in French). Leonard sang the piece with appropriate nostalgia and wistfulness, but preserved her characteristic gleaming tone . . . Leonard mentioned that the last group, Manuel de Falla’s Sieta canciones populares españolas, was the first set of Spanish songs she ever learned. Clearly these hold a special place for her; she put them over with great expression and character, ending the last one, “Polo,” on a blazing high note with the full fury of a woman scorned . . . For an encore, Leonard and Isbin brought out Augustin Lara’s ever-popular “Granada.” Isbin’s performance hovered somewhere between tongue-in-cheek and serious; either way, it was thoroughly entertaining.”
Joshua Rosenblum – Opera News
“Leonard has a gorgeous voice and in her vocal coloring as well as her dramatic stance, she communicated the meaning of every line . . .
The second half of the concert began with the world premiere of three songs, “Of Love and Longing” by Richard Danielpour. The work was specifically written for Isbin and Leonard to perform during Carnegie Hall’s 150th anniversary season. The texts are translations by Raficq Abdulla of poems by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. The passionate songs fit in with the Spanish works on the program, and the composer joined the performers on stage to take a well-deserved bow . . .
Leonard and Isbin then performed Xavier Montsalvatge’s popular “Lullaby for a Little Black Baby” and “Black Dance” and Manuel de Falla’s “Seven Popular Spanish Songs.” As an encore, the duo ended on a high note with the flashy “Granada” by Mexican composer Agustín Lara.”
Barry Bassis – The Epoch Times
“Last night at Zankel Hall, two world-renowned artists graced the stage and demonstrated all the magic of Spanish music. If you came for emotion, you got it. If you came for gorgeous sound, you got it. If you came to feel the multi-cultural aspect of music from Spain, you got it. If you came for glamour, you got it . . .
The recital was unique in that there was no collaborative piano, rather a collaborative guitar played by the world class guitarist Sharon Isbin who seemed to breathe in tandem with Ms. Leonard and whose solos astonished us with their virtuosity.
Nothing astonishes us about Isabel Leonard whose spectacular mezzo-soprano sheds magic on whatever she chooses to sing. We have often written about the rich overtones of her voice which lend it a most particular texture. Her stage presence is stunning but accessible and her phrasing always makes artistic sense . . .
Manuel de Falla wrote his Siete canciónes populares españolas in the early 20th c. Ms. Leonard really connected with the audience and used her innate sense of drama to wring every ounce of color and change of mood from the seven songs. We particularly enjoyed the playful “Jota” in which Ms. Leonard conveyed the secret passion of the young lover; Ms. Isbin’s guitar contributed the texture.
The intense “Polo” was so deeply felt that we experienced a pain in our very own heart. That’s what a song should do for us!
. . . Ms. Leonard is a gifted storyteller and engaged the audience with her easy natural introductions. We particularly enjoyed “Romance de Don Boyso” and “Los mozos de Monléon” which allowed the artist room for a dramatic reading over the voice of the guitar . . .
As encore, we heard the Mexican composer Agustín Lara’s 1932 “Granada” which brought the audience to their collective feet. We felt magnificently entertained.”
Meche Kroop – Voce di meche