SUNDAY AFTERNOONS OF MUSIC
ISABEL BAYRAKDARIAN/ SEROUJ KADJIAN (4-2-06)


By Lawrence Budmen

For a quarter century, Doreen Marx has been doing the extraordinary. Starting with an afternoon musicale in 1981 featuring a string quartet comprised of local musicians, Marx has directed Sunday Afternoons of Music (SAM) – South Florida’s premier recital series. Some of the music world’s greatest artists have taken the stage at SAM. Such gifted artists as Dawn Upshaw and Richard Goode, who would go on to international renown, made appearances at SAM early in their careers. Now happily ensconced at Gusman Concert Hall at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, SAM officially celebrated its 25th anniversary on April 2. Marx continues at the helm – ever a font of enthusiasm and good will.

The Canadian-Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian made her South Florida debut in 2004 at SAM. In celebration of the series’ remarkable longevity, she returned for a festive afternoon of glorious song. Bayrakdarian has an angelic voice with a huge range. Her coloratura sparkles up to the highest register of the vocal stratosphere; yet she can produce rounded low tones that invade mezzo territory. She demonstrated tremendous versatility in a varied program that repeatedly brought the enthusiastic audience to its feet.

Bayrakdarian opened with five original songs and two vocal transcriptions of Chopin pieces by Pauline Viardot Garcia (1812-1910), a pioneering female composer. Garcia was a pupil of Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt. Her songs are marvelously graceful and elegant. Bayrakdarian sang these wonderful pieces with incandescent lyricism and light hearted élan. The lightly perfumed piano accompaniment of Serouj Kradjian (Ms. Bayrakdarian’s husband) was the perfect musical icing on the cake.

Manuel de Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas are earthy, vibrant settings. Andalusian modes and scented Gallic fragrances mingle in this heady vocal brew. Bayrakdarian brought sultry, gutsy declamation to El Pano Moruno. Her mellifluous, multi-hued timbre was perfect for the dreamy languor of Asturiana. A rapid fire version of Polo capped a stunning tour de force. 

The lyrical romanticism of Clara Schuman found a fervent advocate in this superb soprano. Two moody lieder were followed by a rhapsodic Walzer that brought gorgeous vibrations from Bayrakdarian and dazzling arpeggios from Kradjian. This flawless keyboard artist offered a sweeping, colorful solo turn in one of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes. 

Bayrakdarian tossed off the lively rhythms of Gioacchino Rossini’s La Regata Veneziana with verve; and what soaring purity she brought to the high flying vocal line. In Una voce poco fa from Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Bayrakdarian’s coloratura roulades really glittered. Her low notes had the richness and solidity of a great mezzo-soprano – truly remarkable! (Like Victoria de Los Angeles, Bayrakdarian sang a version of the aria that straddled mezzo and soprano terrain.) 

Four songs by George Gershwin were sung with the verbal clarity, ease of delivery, and sincerity of utterance of the best Broadway singers. Someone to Watch over Me was wonderfully languid, irresistibly romantic. Love Is Here to Stay was a gorgeous, endless stream of tonal beauty. I Got Rhythm had bounce and lift aplenty. 

Encores were generous. Puccini’s O mio babbino caro was rapturously beautiful. Ernesto Lecuona’s Malaguena glowed with color and power to spare. Rossini’s La Danza was a breezy vocal folk dance – capped with a pealing high C.

Isabel Bayrakdarian is simply marvelous. Her beauty and style are matched by a glorious voice and vivid musicality. She is an artist to treasure. Bayrakdarian offered a great concert for this landmark anniversary of SAM. 


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