Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Eunice Poulos Sings Piaf at Merkin Concert Hall, NYC 12/7/08

An imaginative and inspired program including both iconic and obscure Piaf songs. To her credit, classical soprano Eunice Poulos didn’t try to out-Piaf Piaf. The Little Sparrow imbued most of what she did with a lot of brass and sass; Poulos’ interpretation required that she simply remain in legit mode, which she did with a pure, clear tone if not a lot of emotional variation from one song to another. But her unabashed enthusiasm for the material, and her terrific backing band, were impossible to resist. Pianist Mitchell Vines turned in a marvelously nuanced and sensitive solo reading of Poulenc’s Improvisation No. 15 in C Minor (which the composer dedicated to Piaf), along with an absolutely riveting take on the somewhat noir cabaret number Padam Padam and the other upbeat numbers that closed the show – in fact, by the time they’d reached that point, the whole band was just as caught up in the drama and emotion of the songs as the crowd. The rhythm section of Rex Benincasa on drums, percussion and bells and bassist John Loehrke was poised and subtle, with accordionist Uri Sharlin (of Pharaoh’s Daughter and others) gracefully supplying the afternoon’s most haunting tonalities.

 

Billed as “La Mome Piaf [Kid Piaf]: The Life and Work of Edith Piaf,” the vividly narrated program didn’t follow any kind of career trajectory, although related songs were frequently paired. Je T’Attends (Waiting for You), the Charles Aznavour cabaret song, stopping just short of camp, was paired with a stripped-down, almost whispery La Vie En Rose, just voice and accordion. The sarcastic come-on Milord paired off with one of Piaf’s more iconic numbers, La Foule (The Crowd), which closed the show on a rousingly dramatic note. For an encore, Poulos and Vines had selected the strikingly brief, impressionistic La Grenouilliere (The Frog Pond), a pensive ode to an island in the middle of the Seine that served as a popular date spot during the 1930s. Francophones might take exception to Poulos’ delivery – she rolls her R’s, a l’espagnole – but the performance was rich with the longing that sometimes spills over into outright anguish, which continues to earn Piaf new devotees with every passing year.

December 7, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Mitchell Vines is a brilliant music director. The entire program was delightful!

    Comment by Lorraine Wearley | December 9, 2008 | Reply

  2. The audience, enthralled with Eunice’s range of emotional expression and color and her beautiful voice, at the end was unwilling to leave until they heard one more song. So she sang “La Grenouillière” by Francis Poulenc, a song beloved of Piaf and a place where Poulos and Piaf intersect in a special way, as Eunice is a true interpreter of Poulenc.
    There is an intriguing dedication: “…in loving memory to The Papoutsakis Girls, my mother, Helen, my aunt Millie, my aunt Katherine, my aunt Margaret, and my aunt Georgia”– in the beautifully produced booklet of verse translations and synopses that was given to each audience member. One would guess that these women were acknowledged for being a source of Eunice’s unique artistic reach, breadth, and depth, and her ability to move people with her eloquence.
    At one point in the narration, there was a pause, and the sound of another voice filled the hall, evoking another time. It was Piaf herself, reciting for her audience the English translation of a song she was about to sing to them. In Eunice’s concert there was truly a nexus of two artists, two women, two souls, both with the initials E.P., descended from a history of women living and loving strongly.
    On Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 4 p.m., at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, Eunice Poulos, soprano (and Board Member/Publicity Chair of WMG), presented “La Môme Piaf (Kid Sparrow)/ The Life & Work of Edith Piaf.” The program was conceived, researched, written, and performed by Eunice Poulos, with an ensemble of musicians led by pianist and musical director Mitchell Vines, and narration read by the actress Barbara Lavery. The ensemble musicians were Rex Benincasa, percussion, John Loerke, bass, and Uri Sharlin, accordion. The narration preceding each of the 15 songs supplied the audience with background as well as insights into Piaf’s artistic and personal life.
    In the program, Eunice wrote: “The fierce intensity Edith Piaf brought to her music did not come as a result of a conscious effort. The fire in her voice was…already present when she sang in the streets as a child. She sang the way she had lived since infancy — at the extreme edge of her emotional and physical survival. Her songs became the balm and peace of her soul because they helped her to dilute the lifelong rage, which only their expression seemed able to dissipate. Using narration and song, our program follows her as she successfully locates the only lasting comfort and support she would ever know – her audience.”
    The 15 songs selected to illustrate the world of Edith Piaf were by Charles Aznavour, Charles Trenet, Francis Poulenc and Jean Cocteau as well as Marguerite Monnot, M. Philippe Gérard, Norbert Glanzberg, Angel Cabral, Francis Lai, Louis Guglielmi (Louiguy), Joseph Kosma, Edith Piaf, and Michel Emer. Lyricists and poets were: Jacques Prévert, Jean Cocteau, Henri Contet, Michel Rivgauche, Jacques Larue, Pierre Barouh. The songs ranged from “Bravo pour le Clown” to “La Foule” to “Milord” to “Barbara,” a full representation.

    Comment by Jane Kasov | January 21, 2009 | Reply


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