Aviary and Lunar Pleasures from Expert Musicians

United StatesUnited States Roussel, Catan, Jeremy Gill, Messiaen, Shulamit Ran: Lucy Shelton (soprano), Dolce Suono Ensemble, Roulette, New York City. 4.12.2013 (DS)

Albert Roussel: Deux poemes de Ronsard, Op. 26
Daniel Catan: Encantamiento
Jeremy Gill: Ode: A Dramatic Cantata (New York premiere)
Olivier Messiaen: Le merle noir
Shulamit Ran: Moon Songs: A Song Cycle in Four Acts
Lucy Shelton, Soprano

Dolce Suono Ensemble
Mimi Stillman, Flute
Gabriel Cabezas, Cello
Jeremy Gill, Piano


Birds and lunar themes were the curatorial backbone of Moon Songs, the most recent in Ear Heart Music’s Series at Roulette. Charmingly staged with tasteful soothing background images, the evening starred soprano Lucy Shelton and the Philadelphia-based Dolce Suono Ensemble. Once again, this ever-blossoming new music series brought together a glorious pairing of artists and compositions that would wow even the most seasoned of concert-going palettes.

The evening opened with an appetizer of duets by flutist Mimi Stillman and Shelton, who performed two songs by Albert Roussel, instantly enlivening aural appetites with creamy and mellow tones. Rossignol, mon mignon (about a nightingale) poured forth elegantly—the duo’s delightful warblings came as if from the bird’s own secret tutelage. Flutist Amelia Lukas (also Ear Heart Music’s director) then joined Stillman in a duet by Daniel Catán. Their collaboration on his Encantamiento was focused but savory, bringing out Catán’s timbres, folk-influences and picturesque ramblings.

Following these exquisite starters, the New York premiere of Jeremy Gill’s Ode: A Dramatic Cantata came in with a cacophonic density, taking its inspiration from several poetic texts that rolled out on the backdrop screen. Stillman’s flute gave out under the pressure and spit out a piece of hardware, forcing her to stop, leave the stage, and come back with a second instrument. But the ease and confidence of the ensemble was never shattered, and the bonus was hearing the worthy Dithyramb movement a second time. The fiery cello opening was particularly exciting, performed by Gabriel Cabezas with hearty aggressiveness; a second helping was something to relish.

Birds returned to the fore with Messiaen’s Le merle noir (The blackbird) for flute and piano— the piece that launched the 20th-century idea of combining natural song with the compositional. Stillman not only played with expertise but with a freedom of expression that combined the work’s technical complexities with an organic flow of ornithological instinct. At all times, she maintained a fantastic balance between bird imitation and musical interpretation. The work’s brevity was compensated by the lingering aftertaste of its superior execution.

The evening came to a rich finish, as the Dolce Suono Ensemble and Shelton rejoined for the grand finale of the brilliantly composed Moon Songs: A Song Cycle in Four Acts by Shulamit Ran. Loosely based on Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Ran’s texts paid special attention to Li Bai’s exquisite writings on the luscious drunkenness induced by moonlight. Shelton’s part soared. She sings as if gracefully pulling the sound out of her mouth with a string, itself suspended, awaiting release. Throughout Moon Songs she molded myriad shapes with her voice, treating it more as supple clay, responsive to her touch.

The audience—I’m sure—fell into a mesmerized state of near drunkenness, too (and I don’t mean from the wine sold at Roulette’s cash bar). Another insightful, engrossing concert from Ear Heart Music produced its own intoxication.

Daniele Sahr

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