The performance attended was held as joint effort between the vocal repertoire class of Layna Chianakas and the French department, who supplied an excellent piano player in the shape of Professor Sharon Brook. The concert therefore focused on vocal performances, with a range of pieces showcasing the singing talents which were on display. The title of the evening was Cafe Les Six, a name which evoked the French nature of many of the pieces.
As well as Professor Brook on piano, there was an impressive range of performers on show. For the first two pieces, which were Arthur Honneger compositions. Taken from Quatre Poemes and 6 Poemes, the pieces were performed with confidence and style by the singers. For this opening duo of pieces, Fallon Nunes took mezzo soprano duties for the first piece, entitled ‘Peuple de Christ’. His performance was sensitive and controlled. For the second Honneger piece, entitled ‘Clotilde’, Leah Torres was the soprano. Again, the performance showed control and skill, as well as displaying a sensitive understanding of the material.
The next pieces were composed by Darius Milhaud, with his ‘Berceuse’ from ‘Deux Airs’ being performed by soprano Kelly Walker. ‘A la Lune’ from his ‘Trois poemes en prose’ followed, sung with focussed passion by another skilled soprano, Emelynn Collado. Mezzo soprano Viviana Millan then sang, as a the concert continued with another piece from Honneger, this time another piece from his ‘Quatre poemes’, entitled ‘Sur le basalte au portique des antres calmes’. Again, the performance elicited quiet gasps of wonder at the skill and panache of the performer.
Things became a little deeper in tone then, as baritone Christopher Zumaran and countertenor Robert Sanchez stepped up. Zumaran performed ‘Hommage a Eric Satie’ by George Auric. Sanchez sang ‘Portrait d’Henri Rousseau’, Auric’s sensitive and moving tribute to the great philosopher. Tenor Patrick Mattes then brought the vocal element of the concert to an end with his rendition of Milhaud’s ‘Innocence’. These three performers provided a nice balance to the high tones of the sopranos which had gone before.
The concert ended with a piano piece entitled ‘Hommage a Edith Piaf, composed by Francis Poulenc. This tribute to the great French torch singer was performed in a passionate way by pianist Gwendolyn Mok, a skilful instrumentalist who performed well on piano all evening, and rejoiced in her title of ‘La Grand Diva du Piano which the program afforded her. Afer such an entertaining evening of vocal performance, it was delightful to end the evening with this stirring and moving paean to one of France’s greatest ever singers.
Overall, the concert was an enjoyable example of a style of music with which I am not necessarily that familiar. The material was performed with such skill though that it was impossible not to be taken by the serene beauty which was at the heart of so many of the pieces which were performed. There really is an otherworldly quality to religious singing of this kind, especially when performed by sopranos, which makes it quite beautiful and affecting, in a way which is hard to define. I was touched and delighted by the music, which I found surprisingly enjoyable. I shall certainly be returning for more choral work of this kind, as this concert has fired a real enthusiasm in me for this kind of work which I would love to explore much further and more deeply when opportunity affords.