Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey produced large and gleaming tone and displayed subtle musical and verbal intelligence. He is an altogether exceptional artist.” – Boston Globe
Zankel Hall/Carnegie Hall
“The American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey brings an unusual combination of vocal qualities to his artistry. Though in its color and character, his voice is a light lyric tenor, he sings with a power associated with heftier tenor voices. What matters most to him, though, is communicating. Surely that’s why he decided to sing an entire program in English for his New York recital debut at Zankel Hall on Saturday night. Among the many impressive qualities Mr. Griffey displayed on this important night, his clear and natural diction offered a model to his American colleagues of how to sing in English.
For his program Mr. Griffey chose works that explore the cultural and political ties between British and American composers and poets during the 20th century. He began elegant performances of three seldom-heard British songs composed very early in that century by Frank Bridge, melancholic works in a late Romantic vein with intriguingly hazy harmonies, scored for voice, viola (Daniel Panner) and piano (the noted accompanist Warren Jones).
Mr. Jones was also the nimble pianist in ‘Three Poems of Fiona MacLeod’ (1918), stark and gripping works by the visionary American composer Charles T. Griffes, and in three songs from 1936 by the American master Samuel Barber on texts by James Joyce, capped by Mr. Griffey’s chilling account of ‘I Hear an Army.’
André Previn took over the piano for the premiere of four songs that he wrote especially for Mr. Griffey. In keeping with the theme of the program, Mr. Previn set two poems by an Englishman, Philip Larkin, and two by an American, William Carlos Williams. The most striking elements of the music were the intricate harmonic writing (loosely moored tonality spiked with jazzy elements and sensual French colorings) and the sure feeling for the contours and content of the words. After intermission came a serenely beautiful account of ‘On Wenlock Edge,’ Ralph Vaughan Williams’s ruminative settings of A. E. Housman poems for tenor, string quartet (Fountain Ensemble) and piano (Mr. Jones). But the revelation of the evening was Mr. Griffey’s rendition of Copland’s ‘Old American Songs.’ It’s hard to rescue these works from the overly folksy performances they tend to receive. But Mr. Griffey sang a new transcription for tenor and guitar by Johannes Tonio Kreusch. With the plaintive sounds of Mr. Kreusch’s guitar and the unjaded sensibility that Mr. Griffey, a North Carolina native, brought to bear, Copland’s music had a fresh and earnest authenticity.
After the second encore – a tender performance of ‘This Little Light of Mine’ – the audience could hardly bear to break the spell with applause.”
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, October 25, 2004
“Anthony Dean Griffey is a young American tenor whose voice has a warm, fresh, fuzzy appeal to match this engaging singer’s friendly style, which radiated sunnily at his recent recital debut in Zankel Hall. And what an enterprising program, sung in English and involving many talents: pianist Warren Jones for songs by Griffes and Barber, the Fountain Ensemble in Vaughan Williams’s ‘On Wenlock Edge’ cycle, violist Daniel Panner in three Frank Bridge songs, guitarist Johannes Tonio Kreusch playing his own arrangement of Copland’s first set of ‘Old American Songs,’ and André Previn providing piano accompaniment for his own songs.
Griffey sang everything utterly naturally, devoid of artifice yet still full of character and nuance, whether probing the bitterness of Vaughan Williams’s Shropshire lad or slyly enumerating the treasures of Copland’s chortling farmer who ‘bought me a cat.’ I suspect there is a future Lohengrin or maybe even a Tristan lurking somewhere in Griffey’s sturdy voice and lyrical approach, but for now savor the moment and his career choices. This is a big vocal talent.”
Peter G. Davis, New York, November 8, 2004
“Anthony Dean Griffey isn’t like most tenors. Perhaps he’s too smart. Although he’s a sensitive singing-actor, his greatest stage successes have involved semi-brutish specialties – Britten’s Peter Grimes, Lennie in Floyd’s Of Mice and Men and Mitch in André Previn’s Streetcar Named Desire. For his debut recital Saturday at Zankel Hall, the subterranean venue buried between Carnegie Hall and the subway, he chose a thinking-man’s programme. Steadfastly avoiding the traditional smorgasbord of styles, he offered no Great Hit parade and indulged no operatic fantasies. He concentrated on a discerning array of American and British songs, most of them doleful, all of them difficult, and none – well, almost none – instant crowd-pleasers. Relying on vocal prowess, a sympathetic demeanour and interpretive flair, he consistently pleased the crowd anyway.
He brought along some imposing friends. Warren Jones, a pianist of unique flair and finesse, served as poised partner in the decaying romanticism of Charles Griffes and Samuel Barber. The violist Daniel Panner helped focus the bleakness of Frank Bridge. Most imposing, Jones joined a fine string quartet, the Fountain Ensemble, for the crushing pathos of Vaughan Williams’ ‘On Wenlock Edge.’ André Previn assumed keyboard duties for the premiere of his four economical studies in fragmented lyricism inspired by poetry of Philip Larkin and William Carlos Williams. Finally, in a burst of folkish cheer, Griffey turned to the simple gifts of Copland’s ‘Old American Songs,’ introducing modest transcriptions for guitar by Johannes Tonio Kreusch. The barnyard antics of ‘I Bought Me a Cat’ provided a sweet cartoon-climax for a generally pensive evening.
Griffey’s singing was persuasive throughout, some acoustical and technical disparities notwithstanding. The sonic ambience tended to wrap his healthy tone in an edgy haze, and an odd rasp sometimes compromised purity at mid-range and mid-volume. It hardly mattered. Here is an artist who savours the distinctions between piano, pianissimo and a whisper, yet rings rafters when needed. Here is an artist who articulates English brightly and crisply. Here is an artist who makes the rough places plain. He didn’t fill all 644 seats at Zankel Hall this time. Next time will be different.”
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times (London), October 28, 2004
Headline: “A STERLING, GENEROUS DEBUT”
“Anthony Dean Griffey is a tenor people like to like. Not only was Zankel Hall reasonably full for his New York recital debut on Saturday night, but such eminences as the soprano Renée Fleming, the countertenor David Daniels, and Paul Kellogg, the general director of New York City Opera, were there to mark the occasion.
Griffey, a tall, husky Southerner, is a physical exception in an age in which most young male singers have been slimmed, pumped, and tweezed to within an inch of their lives. (Go to City Opera and tell me if I’m wrong.) True, it’s hard to imagine Griffey as Rodolfo or Alfredo: his major operatic work has been largely limited to keenly sympathetic portrayals of such outcasts as Lennie in Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men and the title role in Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes.
But for those, and for his sterling qualities as a recitalist and concert artist, he has become a necessary man. He is also a generous colleague, sharing the limelight with two pianists, Warren Jones and André Previn, the violist Daniel Panner, the Fountain Ensemble string quartet, and the guitarist Johannes Tonio Kreusch, who accompanied Griffey in a world-premiere arrangement of Copland’s first set of ‘Old American Songs.’
Griffey has built his career as an English-language specialist, which has certainly sharpened his professional profile. (The gentle music of Schubert and the puissant songs of Duparc would also suit his voice, which, despite occasionally dark vowel coverings, has a clarion, church-choir appeal.) It is not just Griffey’s superbly pointed diction that makes him a first-class recitalist, but the sensitivity with which he can capture and maintain a song’s essential mood. Floating his way into the hushed tones of ‘Is My Team Ploughing?,’ the third song in Vaughan Williams’s classic cycle ‘On Wenlock Edge,’ was not just a great trick, but an avenue by which Griffey could establish the stark contrasts inside A.E. Housman’s gloomy poem.
Russell Platt, Newsday (New York), October 26, 2004
“Mr. Griffey is possessed of a beautiful lyric voice. He is an easy singer, meaning that he doesn’t force – doesn’t need to. His intonation is excellent and so is his breath control. There is surely a relation. He is an intelligent shaper of songs.” “Beginning the second half of the program was Vaughan Williams’s ‘On Wenlock Edge.’ This is exposed music, in an exposed – and exposing – hall, Zankel. Mr. Griffey was amazingly clean, and accurate, and moving. Few are the tenors who could pull this off.”
Jay Nordlinger, The New York Sun, October 25, 2004