A Triumph at Carnegie Hall:
Ivana Kunc makes Her Smashing Debut
By Michael Spudić
With the holiday season heading into full gear, let us pause a moment to reflect upon a uniquely satisfying concert that took place at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall on Saturday afternoon, December 9th. It was an afternoon that will certainly remain fixed in the memory of all those in attendance.
Let us mark the triumphant debut of lyric soprano Ivana Kunc, in conjunction with her coach and accompanist Daniel Ragone, an abundantly gifted pianist highly active on the New York concert scene. Together these two offered their audience a consummate labor of love with their adventurous assortment of vocal and piano compositions, all of them stemming from the pen of Ms. Kunc's father, the late Croatian-born pianist and composer Božidar Kunc.(b. Zagreb, 1903; d. Detroit, 1964).
Aside from hearing an entire program of virtually unknown music for virtually all in attendance that afternoon, one might also bear in mind that what made Saturday's concert even more of an added treat is that Ivana Kunc is not only the daughter of the composer, but also the niece of operatic legend, Zinka Milanov, her father having been Zinka's older brother. With all these familial ties in abundance, implicit throughout this recital was a high benchmark expectation of artistic achievement. And Indeed, I am very happy to report that Ms. Kunc delivered the goods, exhibiting not only a tremendously solid vocal technique and musical sensitivity, but sustained throughout her program a very subtle interpretive style, never overtly extroverted, something so often lacking at art song recitals these days. Her voice was vibrant and clear, diction always exact to the degree that one always understood the words throughout, and the musicality of her phrasing was totally sound and secure. There was a warmth of timbre portending greater artistic enterprise into the future, especially within the art song genre.
Ms. Kunc's comportment and grace on stage, and the depth of emotion that she conveyed through her father's direct and passionate vocal style, all connected with her audience, the cumulative result garnering an even deeper respect for this unique family legacy.
Mr. Ragone must be commended as well, not only for his very solid piano accompaniment throughout the program, but also for the way in which he admirably took center stage as piano soloist, performing with much verve and élan several very charming yet demanding solo pieces.
Daniel Ragone and Ivana Kunc
As to the music itself, from the sampling of works that were presented on this program, one was treated to a colorful assortment of structurally self-contained multi-partite works, all rooted in tonality. Concerning Kunc's musical style, one discerned a more original harmonic language in his later opus works, his earlier compositions leaning more heavily on the French impressionists, especially Maurice Ravel, as heard especially in the "Two Songs for Soprano and Piano, Op. 30, sung in Croatian ("Strepnja"/"Quivering" and "Čežnja"/"Longing"). Also certain folkloric tendencies were hinted at, but in a more abstract way, witnessed by this composer's manipulation of local rhythms, such as certain discernable Croatian dance rhythms i.e. hints at a kolo dance rhythm heard in the "Six Bagatelles for Piano, Op. 44."
Especially with respect to the last autobiographical song cycle "DeElda's Love Songs, Op. 72," portraying the strong love that existed between Ms. Kunc's parents, we noticed yet another family connection as the author of the text happened to be none other than the composer's wife as well as the singer's mother: yet again, more family connections in the service of great art! Truth be told, the unique and special nature of this concert had very much to do with Ms. Kunc bringing her father back to life through his music, a sweet memento mori to the father who passed away before she could get to know him. A key was left behind for Ms. Kunc in the form of this tremendous musical legacy, and it was our privilege last Saturday afternoon to witness a daughter's rekindling of a filial tie to her father through the magically transcendent realm of music.
In attendance at Saturday's performance were a number of devotees of vocal music, among them, Connie Barnett, a favorite student of Zinka Milanov's. Two other friends of Milanov's in attendance were Mirjana Lewis, a pianist in her own right and wife of jazz great John Lewis, as well as former ballerina Xenia Rakic. Conductor and composer Fedor Kabalin also attended, and flutist from the Sylvan Winds, Svjetlana Kabalin was among the audience as well. And of course, CROWN's own Nenad Bach was in attendance, together with his wife and two daughters. And last but not least, among the members of the audience was Ivana Kunc's brother, Douglas Bari, a writer and filmmaker, adding yet another family constituent to the artistic Kunc dynasty, a regal Croatian-American family, all on display at Carnegie Hall this past weekend. All told, it was a priceless artistic event, so sorry if you missed it. But perhaps not all is lost as there are plans to go into the studio sometime in January, 2007 to record much of the music heard on this concert. Stay tuned to CROWN for further information.
Father's joy. Božidar Kunc with little Ivana
Formated for CROWN by Nenad Bach
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