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Tenor Thomas A. Gregg and harpist Emily Laurance – the duo that comprises DoubleAction – provided a most gracious and artful entertainment Saturday evening, June 3, as part of the Adeline McCall Memorial Concert Series at the Horace Williams House in Chapel Hill. The program, titled "Francophilia: French Song at Home and Abroad," explored French song around the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century. Much of the concert was gleaned from Laurance's research at the Library of Congress on the 18th and 19th century French "romance," a song form that sought to recapture something of the Troubadour traditions of an earlier era. It's the kind of music and poetry that sees romance as passion (i.e., suffering) and views unrequited love as the sweetest misery of all.
Dressed in period costumes that reflected styles from circa 1790, DoubleAction started the program with one of the most familiar and exquisite songs of this genre, "Romance de Florian," by Jean-Paul Egide Martini, arranged by Boilly. Gregg's warm and sensuous tenor voice and Laurance's sensitive touch on the strings of the harp wrought mystical wizardry in the historic Horace Williams House. (The song was ten times more beautiful than Elvis's rendition of the same tune.) I felt I was in a villa outside Paris, relishing in the cultural style of the time.
There were six sets of three or four songs each: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Love, Operatic Extracts, Songs of Farewell, The French Revolution – Before and After, Recalling the Ancient Minstrel, and French Song at Home and Abroad. Of note was the "Romanza dal Sgr. Rubini" by Rossini, not the one that is sung in The Barber of Seville but a song in the romance mode. The songs in the Farewell set were amazingly dramatic, especially "La Mort de Werther" ("The Death of Werther") and "Paul au Tombeau de Virginie" ("Paul at Virginia's Tomb"), the harp showing its capability for dramatic comment and supporting the lyrically sorrowful text sung by the tenor.
The first selection after intermission was an extraordinary piece. "L'Orage de Colardeau" ("The Storm by Colardeau") begins with rapidly ascending and descending scales (nothing new here) as a young lady faces the double "dangers" of the storm and her shepherd. As the song moves into a more reflective mode, the harp plays chords and gentle arpeggios, all very descriptive and charming.
For the last selection, Laurance, while still strumming the harp, joined Gregg in a vocal duet from Estelle by Eugène Guilbert. It was such a delight to end a delightful evening this way. DoubleAction has established Gregg and Laurance in a unique and special genre of art song. They have developed a rare combined musicianship that grows with each program and performance.
Traffic was light and sane on the drive over, we had a pleasant repast before the concert, and found easy parking. It was a cool June evening with low humidity, there were pleasant friends to greet, and to top it all off, there was a reception after the concert with some unforgettably delicious locally grown strawberries.
Sadly, it was Emily Laurance's last feature performance in the Triangle. She has accepted a faculty position at the San Francisco Conservatory to begin in the fall, though she will be around here and in Washington for a couple more months. For about sixteen years she has appeared in chamber programs and symphony concerts, accompanied choral groups, and generally brightened the musical life of this area. She will be sorely missed. Yet with the pleasure of her charm and musicianship warm in our memory, we send our best wishes with her wherever she travels.