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Performances

17 Jul 2018

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

A review by Alexis Rodda

Above: "The Storming of the Bastille" by Jean-Pierre Houël [Source: Wikipedia]

 

“We wanted this recital to be beautiful even when the political climate is so ugly,” said Jones, of the choice of French-song centered evening.

And beauty the sopranos did indeed present with a highly ambitious, challenging program that included Benjamin Britten, Gabriel Fauré, Viktor Ullman, and a world premiere by composer Martha Sullivan.

Elise Brancheau began the program with Les Illuminations, op. 18 by Benjamin Britten. Brancheau oscillated between coy gaiety and deep desperation in order to illustrate the pathos of poetry imbued with pastoral playfulness and perverse paintings of human freakishness. Martin Néron played the at-times perversely cheerful stylings of Britten with aplomb, supporting Brancheau in a display of skillful duetting. Brancheau navigated the difficult cycle with incredible breath control, musical sensibility, and a shimmering instrument seemingly unphased by the music’s many vocal challenges.

Brancheau’s performance of the world premiere of Lunaire by Martha Sullivan also proved a success.

“The collaboration came about by chance,” said Brancheau of her partnership with Sullivan. “She [Sullivan] reached out to me and said she had always wanted to set these poems [by Albert Giraud].”

Sullivan’s music is lyric and sweeping, and clearly displays her knowledge of the soprano voice. The piano moves between complex harmonies while repeating haunting leitmotifs that linger in the mind long after each musical phrase has ended. The vocal line deftly illustrates the eeriness of each of Giraud’s poems with frequent moments of musical word painting, supported by a thrusting piano part that almost evokes a more sinister Debussy.

Shannon Jones collaborated with pianist Keith Chambers to present Cinq Melodies “de Venise” by Gabriel Fauré. Jones brought a lush and sensual interpretation to Fauré’s songs. Her second selection, a set of Viktor Ullman songs setting the poetry of Louïse Labé, displayed the full depth and range of Jones as a singer, as well as Chambers as a pianist. Jones sang through two songs of unrelentingly high tessitura with clear and striking vocal timbre, while Chambers ripped through the difficult piano accompaniment with nearly unbelievable ease.

Ullman was a striking and poignant choice by Jones, who said of the composer, “He and his works are a reminder of what we stand to lose if we look at people as a race versus a being.”

The evening, skillfully handled by all the performers, was not impressive merely for its excellent musical displays, but for the thoughtfulness of programming and nuanced interpretation of beautiful and meaningful poetry. Each artist had something to say throughout the course of the evening, and the musical choices provoked emotion and discussion in a way that only a meaningfully curated concert can.

Alexis Rodda

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