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Brooklyn Art Song Society at Bargemusic: Les Six

by Nick Stubblefield

GroupAh, the music of the French: Je t'aime. Something about it has always moved me -- from the work of Ravel and Debussy, to the contemporary film scores of Yann Tiersen. But despite some peripheral familiarity, I've overlooked a little group of French composer rebels known as "Les Six," who lived in Montparnasse around 1920 and wrote music in reaction to Wagner and Debussy.

I visited Bargemusic Thursday night for the Brooklyn Art Song Society's second installment in their "Les Six" series, devoted to the work of Darius Milhaud. Bargemusic is not only a great place to hear music, but an experience unto itself as the ferry rocks back and forth with the waves of the East River. You also get good acoustics, an inviting wooden interior, and a great view of Manhattan as a backdrop to the performance. 

The Brooklyn Art Song Society, now in its fifth season, specializes in poetry set to music. Artistic Director Michael Brofman accompanied soprano Justine Aronson on Milhaud's Chansons de Ronsard, Op. 223. Aronson's clear tone and sublime expressiveness lent itself beautifully to the music. While technically demanding, the real magic to this music is in its expressiveness. Whispering softs and belting louds abound. Alternatively playful, humorous, and startlingly sad, Milhaud's work takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. A personal favorite was "Tais-toi, Babillarde" ("Be still you noisy little thing"), a lightning-fast tongue twister of a tune. 

MalkMezzo-soprano Samantha Malk followed with Pöemes Juif, Op. 34, delivered with assuredness and grace, her face filled with expression. Soprano Kristina Bachrach closed the program with Alissa, Op. 9: a clever concept piece in which the lyrics depict an exchange of letters between two lovers. Haunting and soulful, Bachrach delivered plenty of raw emotion in her performance. 

A special nod of appreciation to Brofman and his fellow accompanist, Miori Sugiyama. As a pianist myself, I felt fully immersed in their elegant and refined playing, each exhibiting excellent touch and clean technique. 

The next installment of the "Les Six" series, devoted to the music of Louis Durey and Germaine Tailleferre, takes place on December 9 at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. Details on the Brooklyn Art Song Society's website