“BEAUTY 美 – Jeffrey and Riko” – a new album from the Michigan-based classical music label Blue Griffin – is a wonderful recital disc of songs and piano pieces. The album features American countertenor Jeffrey Palmer and Japanese pianist Riko Higuma, both accomplished New York-based performers who are no strangers to the international stage.
Jeffrey, who has performed across the globe from Hefei China to Carnegie Hall in NY, serves as vocal faculty for the Music in the Alps Festival in Austria and as the United States Correspondent for Australian classical and new music magazine CutCommon. Riko Higuma, of Zodiac Trio fame, is a staff accompanist and vocal coach at the Manhattan School of Music in New York with a performance resume so lengthy it would take the entire article just to scratch the surface!
Their collaboration, aptly titled “Beauty”, is just that – a collection of songs and piano works that are ethereal, reflecting humanity’s unparallel ability to create beauty that seems to reach out and touch the otherworldly. The repertoire chosen is non-discriminatory in its origin, era or even style. From Baroque-era Pergolesi, to Joseph Kosma’s popular, “Autumn Leaves” – the works all reflect their own idea of beauty, and are selected by the musicians for having profoundly touched them at different points of their lives.
Well suited for an album dedicated to the beautiful, Jeffrey’s voice offers an exceptionally warm and pleasant tone that is able to naturally connect with the listener and easily communicate emotion in the most understated and primal way. His range is quite striking, climbing much higher that a typical countertenor and reaching the heights of the soprano. Showcasing great imagination and technical versatility, Jeffrey feels at home over a great variety of styles, whether it’s baroque, romantic, impressionist or contemporary, driving home the notion that music is music, and our self-imposed labels are suited for cataloging at best. His virtuosity is probably best on display in the unaccompanied scene from Huang Ruo’s “Paradise Interrupted” (a fascinating opera that juxtaposes the myths of the Garden of Eden and Peony Pavilion with composition that merges 600-year-old Kun opera with contemporary Western opera). Finally, his take on Autumn Leaves (not often heard in this voice range) transports the listener with ease to early 20th century Paris, sounding perfectly in style, natural and with nostalgic flair.
Pianist Riko Higuma’s contribution to the album can not be understated. She is an extremely sensitive partner to Jeffrey, masterfully creating perfectly-fitted atmospheres, colors and shades. From their delicate dialog in Mondnacht, to the perfect scene setting in My Logan Love, Riko’s remarkable skill as a collaborator is evident throughout the disc. Additionally, she achieves a striking, quiet intensity on Andrew List’s Amon-Re that captures the listener’s attention, releasing them only after the last note dies down.
As is often the case with Blue Griffin recordings, the disc is perfectly balanced, creating a seamless blend of natural acoustics and intimate space. Definitely a recommendation for the vocal aficionado… or anyone searching for beauty…
– Michael Grott