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What could be more delightful than a technically-skilled, silvery-toned soprano singing French songs to the accompaniment of a master collaborative pianist? Audience members were treated to just that when they attended the Music House's Nov. 5 concert, which was presented in conjunction with the French Section of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at East Carolina University (ECU) in celebration of National French Week, a creation of the American Association of Teachers of French designed to promote awareness of all things French. There were, perhaps, two things that made the concert even more delightful: 1) the fact that most of the songs were lesser-known, to which the concert's title, "The Forgotten Songs," alludes; and 2) the rare addition of a woodwind trio to the piano version of one group of songs for which the composer penned only purely orchestral and piano versions.
ECU School of Music alumna Shana Hammett Osterloh provided the beautifully-produced silver tones, and ECU music professor and Music House host John O'Brien provided the beautifully-produced piano tones. Although the first three groups of songs were indeed by lesser-known (though not necessarily forgotten) French Mélodie composers, they consisted mostly of their better-known songs – Chabrier's "Villanelle des petits canards," Chausson's "Le temps des lilas" and "Le charme," and Canteloube's "Baïlèro" among them. Whether light and comical or filled with the pain of lost love, all were beautifully performed. Attention to detail – both interpretive and linguistic – was a hallmark throughout.
As mentioned earlier, Osterloh and O'Brien were joined by a woodwind trio for the third group, which consisted of the first collection of Cantaloube's Chants d'Auvergne. The trio consisted of Greenville musicians Lynne Marks, flute, Robert Burkett, oboe, and Jack Fisher, clarinet. All played beautifully, adding a frosting of orchestral color to the piano version of these folk song adaptations.
The final group of the recital added a bit of irony to the program. The six songs in this group form a set titled Ariettes oubliées, or Forgotten Songs. They were, however, composed by one of the most remembered Mélodie composers, Claude Debussy, and are today performed more than any of the other pieces on the program. The same finely-spun vocal lines and elegant piano phrases characteristic of the earlier groups held the attention of the listeners to the end.
For an encore, the duo performed the operatic classic "Depuis le jour" from Louise by Charpentier. In this aria, Osterloh effortlessly called on the full range of her vocal and interpretive abilities. Her pianissimo tones were particularly exquisite, perfectly communicating Louise's inner joy over her love affair with Julien, and bringing a delightful evening to a delightful end.