Like cheering at a St. Patrick’s Day parade or taking in fireworks and dragon dances at the lunar New Year, celebrating Bastille Day can seem downright patriotic in multicultural Southern California. A cadre of local musicians under the umbrella of Bodhi Tree Concerts put together an entertaining Bastille Day Cabaret Sunday (July 14) at La Jolla’s St. James-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, touching on cultural icons high, low, and fashionably in between.
Following the oft-quoted dictum of Casablanca’s Captain Renaud, the Bodhi Tree folks rounded up the usual suspects: a sampler of Edith Piaf songs, a pair of Jacques Brel favorites, and arias from Bizet’s opera Carmen. Including accordion virtuoso Lou Fanucchi in this otherwise predictable collage, however, made the concert extraordinary.
Adding the accordion’s nostalgic instrumental color to Piaf’s greatest hits—“Non, je ne regrette rien,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “La vie en rose”—only hinted at Fanucchi’s exceptional prowess. He warmed up on some traditional Parisian puff pastry solos, notably Murena and Colombo’s “Indifférence: Valse musette” and Henri Betti’s “C’est si bon,” that allowed him to display facility with intricate figurations as well as subtle phrasing and quicksilver changes of mood.
His Gypsy jazz selections, especially Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing,” opened up a rich vein of rhythmically and harmonically complex music that insinuated a hot jazz trio from Fanucchi’s lone instrument. The next time I am tempted to tell a cheap-shot accordion joke, I know that the memory of Fanucchi’s performance will make me think twice.
If we closed our eyes to ignore the ecclesiastical trappings of St. James Church, Chantal Roche’s honeyed Parisian street songs
easily transported us to a Montmartre café, and her quick French vibrato and dark, nasal vocal timbre made us believe every word and every heartbreak. Her tempos may have been a tad deliberate, but her account of Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert’s “Autumn Leaves” (sung in both English and French) was a touching as I have ever heard.
Bass Walter DuMelle acted as both genial host and suave vocalist, wooing us with a breathy, intense “Ne me quitte pas,” a Brel trademark, and rattling the rafters with Hubert Giraud’s “Sous le ciel de Paris.”
Soprano Victoria Robertson’s French opera arias were fiery and full-throated, and I admired the dramatic thrust of her “Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse” from Saint-Saens’ Samson and Delilah. I did not find, however, her four Gabriel Fauré art songs at all idiomatic. Fauré’s songs are entirely text driven and should hover subtly above the piano’s ever-changing harmonic fabric. From Robertson’s labored, monochromatic performance, it appears that she closed out her subtle account at the bank some time ago.
Intrepid piano accompanist Janie Prim gave all of her singers the de luxe treatment, a significant feat since the last minute [php snippet=1]unavailability of G. Scott Lacy, who was supposed to direct the performance and accompany the soloists, required her to pull together a large amount of music in a few days’ time. Another bottle of champagne for the accompanist, s’il vous plaît!