Gallic, Sentimental, Naughty—and Great Fun

United StatesUnited States  Le Salon Cabaret: concert:nova, Ixi Chen (artistic director), Cincinnati Ensemble Theatre. Cincinnati, OH. 9.2.2015 (RDA)

Songs and instrumental selections by Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Kurt Weill, Marguerite Monnot, Jean Françaix, Nadia Boulanger, Gabriel Fauré, and Claude Debussy


The origins of cabaret date back to the Paris of the last three decades of the 19th century, a period known as the Belle Époque. It was an era seemingly belle on its glistening surface,  upon which the French danced as fast as they could, oblivious to the gaping chasm that awaited them. The environment was ripe for the rise of a populist, contrarian, rebellious and sardonic genre that was readily embraced by artists and public alike. Café-concerts popped up all over Paris, where the madcap, anti-establishment and often obtuse poetry of Max Ernst and Guillaume Apollinaire was set to equally strange music by Erik Satie and his cohorts.

In Le Salon Cabaret, the adventurous musicians of concert:nova successfully brought to life an evening derived from both the raunchy dives of Montmartre and the perfumed salons of turn-of-the-century Paris. Satie’s fanfare for two trumpets, “for awakening the good fat monkey king who always sleeps with one open eye,” set the tone for the evening, quickly followed in a musical about-face by Fauré’s Après un rêve, played with elegant sweep by cellist Ted Nelson.

Bonnaud and Blès’ La diva de l’Empire, Boulanger’s Chanson, Kurt Weill’s Je ne t’aime pas, Satie’s Je te veux, Poulenc’s Hôtel  and Debussy’s Fantoches, were sung stylishly by the lovely mezzo-soprano Kemper Florin and by Joseph Lattanzi. The latter, a supple lyric baritone, summoned delicacy for the tongue-in-cheek humor of Poulenc and Apollinaire’s menagerie in Le Bestiaire, and fine vocalism for the drinking song of Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée.

In Poulenc’s Le Bal masque, Lattanzi and Kemper alternated in the vocal sections, balanced the humor and seriousness of the surrealist text by Max Jacob, and honored Poulenc’s admonishment to the singers to offer “…no reservations…no false airs…no winks…”

The concert:nova ensemble brought panache and terrific playing throughout the evening, notably Le Gai Paris, a whimsical mano a mano, played by trumpeter Douglas Lindsay and bassoonist Martin Garcia with cheeky humor and off-the-cuff dexterity. There was also an exquisitely rendered movement of Ravel’s String Quartet, with Gerald Itzkoff, Mari Thomas, Margaret Dyer and Ted Nelson sounding as if they had been making chamber music together all of their adult lives.

Connecting the dots for the sizable audience, Morleen Rouse and Aimée Langrée were assured bilingual guides throughout an altogether delightful entertainment—some of it naughty, some of it sentimental, much of it great fun, all of it quintessentially Gallic.

Rafael de Acha


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