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The Sixth Annual French Week Concert at the Music House was, not surprisingly, long on French Music with French lyrics. As explained by impresario John O'Brien, he was requested six years ago to put on a French concert and within the week an internationally famous Parisian harpsichordist called and offered to play a recital on the one-off night of an otherwise fully booked tour. Thus was a tradition founded. This evening's concert was sponsored by the ECU Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, the Music House, and the Greenville Community Music Cooperative.
This year there was no imported talent, rather a roomful of Greenville excellence. A recorder consort, consisting of Jack Fisher, Chris Mann, Lynne Marks and Jo Shaw, opened with three early Renaissance song settings, "L'Amour de moy" (anonymous); "Allons, allons gay" by Adrian Willaert; and "Troys jeunes bourgeouises" by Guillaume le Heurteur. The rhythms were brisk and the intonation (always a bugbear for recorder ensembles) excellent. In the usual way of semi-amateur recorder groups, every player had more than one recorder, with much exchanging of instruments between each piece. The group had an appropriately amusing false start to the third piece, which describes young women going off drunkenly to visit some monks. Zut alors!
I had the privilege in 2008 of hearing Carolyn Myers sing Gabriel in Haydn's Creation. She was just as lovely in this concert, singing three songs by Fauré: "Aurore," "Clair de lune," and "Mandoline." Accompanied by O'Brien, she sang completely from memory and with great depth of feeling.
Chris Byrd, alto saxophone, accompanied by Justin Sturz, played three pieces from the Tableaux de Provence by Paule Maurice (1910-1967). No. 1, "Farandoulo di Chatotino" (Dance of the Young Girls) was a fine vehicle to show off Byrd's facility. No. 4, "Dis Alyscamps l'amo Souspire" (A Sigh on the Souls for the Alyscamps) was filled with long sustained passages that were a breeze for Byrd. No. 5 was "Lou Cabridan" (The Bumblebee), revised with the difficult virtuostic cadenza. Byrd was brilliant, just brilliant!
Amelia Moore (accompanied by Sturz) played the Sonatine for Flute and Piano by Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013). The composition is much more difficult than beautiful, and Moore played the excruciating high notes perfectly; she has a thorough mastery of her instrument. There was nothing easy in this piece.
Mann on recorder, and O'Brien on harpsichord, played Anne Danican-Philador's Sonata in D minor. They play comfortably together. Mann plays this difficult instrument well and has a good mastery of both ornaments and vibrato. O'Brien brought out the richness of the Music House French double by Richard Kingston. This sonata is unusual for French sonatas of the time for having two movements marked "Fugue." But although there is some imitation between the harpsichord and the recorder, these are not fugues in the style of Bach. The central movement, Courante, has lots of long and expressive lines, which Mann brought out well.
With Fisher on clarinet, Sturz returned to the stage this time instead on recorder, to play the Allegretto from Saint-Saëns's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. In tuning, Fisher played a little riff that ended in a squeak. He quickly said, "This is not supposed to be klezmer," and played a nice major arpeggio. The Allegretto was beautiful relaxed, and romantic; it came out as a fine love song.
An independent round of applause goes to Sturz. He had an equal role in every piece he accompanied, a lot of hard work, a lot of difficult music to learn; his performances were all flawless. He carefully watched and supported the performers as he worked with them.
"Sous le dôme épais" is famous and beautiful and is also known as the "Flower Duet" from Delibes's opera Lakmé. Myers was joined on stage by Shaw, and they were accompanied by O'Brien. Their performance was spell-binding. Their voices are perfectly matched, and their affect was that of the long-standing friendship they share. Shaw took the part of Lakmé and Myers took Mallika; there is no distinction between the roles or between these singers' skill and beauty. This brought the audience to its feet. These two lovely ladies will perform again on 18 January at the Music House as the totally-inaccurately named "Doddering Divas." This would have been the high point of the evening had it not been eclipsed by a piece of early classical cornball, as follows.
The Marche des Marseillois et l'Air Ça Ira is a grand majestic heroic revolutionary bombastic piece from the time of the French Revolution. It is a program piece with descriptive names for each part of the music: "Les Revolutionnaires Fiers," "Visions d'une Meilleure Vie," "L'Ennemi Approche," "Préparez Vous au Combat," "Nous Sommes Prêts," "Le Combat," "L'Ennemi Fuit," "Canon," and "Victoire! Succès! Liberté!" The narration was provided, in French of course, by Dr. Marylaura Papalas, Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies at ECU. Although Balbastre would have had a fortepiano at his disposal, the Music House Steinway was perfect for the expressive and loud playing, especially the cannon blast! One chord was sufficient to rout the enemy. Visuals were provided by three French students marching around downstage with Le Tricolore, Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge! While this was displayed, a massed recorder orchestra off-stage added their shrillness too.
Vive la France!