The Sunken Garden on the Caramoor estate in Katona, New York

When I couldn’t go to the first performance of Norma at Caramoor, my intention to go to the next one was intensified by the rave reviews it garnered. So, on Friday afternoon, I hopped the “Caramoor Caravan” outside Grand Central Station (three big buses) and got to that heavenly spot in time for Andrew Porter’s predictably satisfying pre-show lecture.

The performance was as the reviews promised, or somewhat better. Not only is Angela Meade the real thing, but Keri Alkema’s Aldagisa was, in its own way, just as remarkable and more than fulfilled the promise of her well-received Donna Anna in last fall’s hit Don Giovanni at the New York City Opera. These young women were not the only virtues — the Orchestra of St. Luke’s sounded rich in the surprisingly fine acoustics of the Venetian Theater — but the well-matched pair are what people will talk about most. The invaluable Will Crutchfield’s next offering in the “Bel Canto at Caramoor” project is already coming next Saturday, and I understand that there are still some tickets. It’s a rare chance to hear Donizetti’s late opera Maria di Rohan.

There were plenty of good reasons to go back up (this time via Metro North, since the Caravan runs only for operas) on Sunday for the Schumann-Chopin celebration, but I admit that the main draw for me was Sasha Cooke. Ever since I first encountered her remarkable art, she has had no rivals in my expectations of the next superstar mezzo-soprano. The last time I heard her was last January in the annual Marilyn Horne festivities at Carnegie Hall. She and her new husband Kelly Markgraf (the Masetto in that same NYCO Don Giovanni) had given an unforgettable duo recital then. While these two are wonderful individual artists, I do hope they will continue to give us such evenings as that one; but yesterday offered Sasha Cooke’s solo majesty in Schumann’s evergreen Frauenliebe und Leben with the eloquent pianist Michael Barrett. Anybody who was in the rapturous audience will tell you that they gave us an experience of that cycle that won’t be forgotten.

But the concert had another memorable highlight as well: the rarely-played Schumann Andante and Variations for Two Pianos, Two Cellos, and Horn was a revelation, even to a big Schumann fan. It of course didn’t hurt to have virtuosos of the level of hornist Stewart Rose, cellists Edward Arron and Alexis Pia Gerlach, and pianists Ken Noda and Michael Barrett. If you don’t know the work, get a recording. But even then you may miss the enchanting spacial effects that Schumann achieves in the subtle interplay of instruments. And there was that memorable phrase in which the first cello and the horn play in a perfect unison that produced a sound I’ve never heard before and yearn to hear again.

The secret of Caramoor’s charm is too multilayered even to attempt an analysis here. But it occurred to me yesterday that the musical personnel were of a quite unusual character. Everyone on that stage was doing something that they do very, very well. But they are all people who do many other things in our musical life and are thus well-rounded in a way that not all concert artists can be. Barrett, Arron, and Noda are well known as administrators and curators of musical series and events at the pinnacle of our musical life without in any way diminishing their primary means of communication: the music itself. Sasha Cooke, despite being such a dazzling recitalist, has already proved herself internationally as a dramatic star of the opera stage. Stewart Rose pops up everywhere from the Philharmonic or Met orchestras to a Paul Simon recording or the David Letterman show. That one of these is the Chief Executive and General Director of Caramoor itself is doubtless one of the reasons that the musical experience there is so rich.

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