Songs by Les SixSongs by Les Six Helen Gabrielsen, soprano; Marcia Eckert, piano Lang Recital Hall, New York, NY July 18, 2010
After World War I, an informal group of young French composers banded together to write a new kind of music that would be leaner, more astringent and less sensuous than what was being composed at the time. Several were good friends, having been students at the Paris Conservatoire; six of them shared a concert in 1920 and eventually became famous as les six.
Some of les six’s songs were performed by soprano Helen Gabrielsen and pianist Marcia Eckert at Hunter College’s intimate Lang Recital Hall. Long-time friends and collaborators, their mutual musical interests include a special affinity for French music of the 20th and 21st centuries. The program offered a heady mix of musical and literary styles, from descriptive, nostalgic and passionate to sardonic and humorous. The songs required the singer to act as both narrator and participant, while the piano evoked the pictorial and emotional background with effects ranging from delicate tinkling to crashing chords.
The titles of Francis Poulenc’s “Airs” – Romantic, Pastoral, Serious and Lively – (texts by Jean Moréas) spoke for themselves. Two songs by Arthur Honegger (texts by Apollinaire and Claudel) celebrated nature and love. Six songs by Germaine Tallieferre (texts, some anonymous, from the 15th to 18th centuries), were the most substantial and immediately affecting. Humor, both ingenuous and ironic, was provided by Darius Milhaud (texts by Jean Cocteau); Georges Auric’s “Alphabet,” (texts by Raymond Radiguet), and Louis Durey’s “Le Bestiaire” (poet not named).
The performance was excellent. Helen Gabrielsen’s voice was well-suited to this repertoire: light and clear, even throughout the range with an effortless top; her intonation was impeccable. Marcia Eckert displayed a large palette of dynamics, colors and nuances; she established and underlined mood and atmosphere, and offered both firm leadership and sensitive support.
Both performers are active soloists and chamber musicians, and have appeared with various groups and partners in New York and around the country. They also teach and coach at several music schools; the presence of numerous, very attentive children—some bearing floral tributes—testified to their students’ affection.