NICK TOURS THE EAST COAST WITH MUSICIANS FROM MARLBORO FESTIVAL PERFORMING BEETHOVEN & VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
"Musicians from Marlboro, the touring ensemble from the Vermont chamber music gathering, are regular visitors to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, each concert bearing a few glimpses into the storied summer festival’s approach to its craft. Sometimes, though, the group offers something more. That was the case Sunday, when its latest iteration included Nicholas Phan, a tenor who, in a short time, has become one of the world’s most remarkable singers.
The reasons for his success were apparent during an incisive performance of “On Wenlock Edge,” Vaughan Williams’s song cycle for tenor, piano, and string quartet...One could admire, in Phan’s performance, the variety of shadings in his voice, the naturalness of his phrasing, and the evenness of his vocal range. But that was all secondary to the sheer intensity with which he inflected every word. It was there in the fragile, whispered opening of “From far, from eve and morning” and in the torrent of anguish in “Is my team ploughing” and “Bredon Hill.” Even when the mood lightened, there was no moment where you did not feel the sheer force of Phan’s projection.
He was, in an odd way, almost as impressive in a selection of five of Beethoven’s settings of Irish folk songs for voice and piano trio. These are not Beethoven’s most distinguished creations, and the rather banal texts suffer in comparison to Housman’s. But there was no less depth in Phan’s artistic investment, and he made the stories these songs told compelling and poignant..."
"...Their intensity rose with the arrival of tenor Nicholas Phan. He and pianist Lydia Brown joined the strings for Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge, and this combination found meaning in the words of the song cycle: Brown’s gusts of wind in the first song, the recurring bells of the fifth. Each song was granted its own atmosphere.
Phan’s voice -- here as well as in five movements from Beethoven’s Irische Lieder -- is a thing of wonder. He has a warm, centered basic sound that he shades in smart ways to sharpen meanings. He toggled back and forth between a warm vibrato and a timbre a good deal more bald but still beautiful. To Beethoven, he brought a slightly less formal sound..."
"Every year Musicians from Marlboro, the touring branch of the esteemed summer festival in Vermont, shows off its goods at Boston’s Gardner Museum. This time around brought a special treat: two works by Beethoven and Vaughan Williams that featured the extraordinary young tenor, Nicholas Phan.
I first heard Phan several years ago on the Debut Series in The Boston Celebrity Series, then as Papageno in Mozart’s Magic Flute with Boston Baroque. I have several of his CDs, and I have been repeatedly awed and transported by his voice, stage presence, and charisma. 'Gods and Monsters', his latest CD, was released a few weeks ago. Phan is on the way to becoming a national treasure...
For the five Beethoven folksongs, ”Irish Lieder,” Ross and cellist Yoo were joined by the distinguished pianist Lydia Brown....A spellbinding storyteller, Phan sang these songs wonderfully, with lots of personality and a voice one could listen to all day. The beautiful diction, perfect pitch, expressiveness, and grace that he exhibited here were on display again in his rendition of Ralph Vaughan William’s song cycle 'On Wenlock’s Edge.'... I have several recordings of this memorable cycle; none of these performances are as captivating as Phan’s was on Sunday. Lydia Brown played the often harp-like piano part extremely well. This performance will surely be among the finest I’ll hear in the year to come..."
"...Giving these simple songs dramatic significance was man of the hour the tenor Nicholas Phan....The love stories and soldiers’ tales came to us as though from a virile belletrist. Phan’s vocal resources spanned the divide between the drawing room and the theater in indrawing manner. Whether declamatory or intimate, whether as swain or dying soldier, he appealed to our better angels, makingof these modest songs great art. His partners Roos and Yoo and pianist Lydia Brown (warm of voice and lapidary of phrase) were onboard with every nuance.
The journey continued from Ireland to England via Vaughan Williams On Wenlock Edge, a deeply moving setting of poems from Housman’s 'A Shropshire Lad.' The ensemble of string quartet and piano gave an orchestral support that permitted Phan operatic heft at times. Indeed, he was never Pearish or preciously pastoral, as are some in this role. Rather he embodied the machismo of the regretfully nostalgic vagabond in Vaughan Williams’s five-years-earlier Songs of Travel(from R.L. Stevenson). Moments to treasure included Phan’s masterful diminuendo on “…the winds’ twelve quarters”, in the second song, and the shimmering, characterful overture to the fifth song, which evokes larks and steeples. The extended postlude banished all sense of time and place..."