Justin Elie: Chants de la montagne No. 2 (Nostalgie)
Ludovic Lamothe: Feuillet d’album No. 1
Ludovic Lamothe: Feuillet d’album No. 2
Franz Liszt: Three transcriptions of six of Chopin's Polish songs
3. The Ring
4. Drinking Song
Franz Liszt: La Notte
Edmond Saintonge: Élégie-Méringue (Elegy-Merengue)
Justin Elie: Three popular Haitian Meringues
Ludovic Lamothe: Loco, excerpts of voodoo icons
Danza No. 1 (Habanera)
Danza No. 2
Danza No. 3
Back in Aix-en-Provence after my short week in Dieulefit, I was determined not to let summer heat and tourist invasion get to me, so last Thursday, my mom and I headed to La Roque d’Anthéron for two concerts of its prestigious international piano festival that has never let anything, not even the never-ending pandemic, bring it to a stop for the past 40 years.
On the other hand, La Roque d’Anthéron for all its loveliness has few distractions, except for an incredible ice-cream parlor with a shaded terrace and a gargantuan menu in town as well as the impressive Cistercian Abbey of Silvacane nearby, but hey, the holy trinity of food, history and music is not a bad way to fill a beautiful summer day.
Needless to say, our main goal was the music, and we were dearly hoping that the streak of good luck we had been enjoying would carry on a little longer, so that after a piano recital in Dieulefit’s local park and a piano recital in Saoû’s dense forest the previous week, we could end our season in grand style with two last piano recitals al fresco in the magnificent park of La Roque d’Anthéron’s 16th-century Château de Florans.
The 5 PM recital would feature Franco-Haitian pianist Célimène Daudet, a young, bold and already much in-demand pianist who had concocted a playlist heavily influenced by her Haitian roots with three Haitian composers and pianists who had trained at the Paris Conservatory in the early 20th century… and Franz Liszt.
The intimate Espace Florans, in which she was going to perform, consisted of a piano standing on a small stage placed on top of a stunning alley of plane trees in front of a small audience—That would be us—who got there via a narrow path in the woods. In short, everything was lined up for a rather unusual and very exciting experience.
The concert started on a subtle note with two “Chants de la montagne” (Mountain songs) from Justin Elie, so subtle in fact that hearing the piano over the hordes of cicadas adding their own loud soundtrack to the original score was often challenging. But, with a little effort, we were able to connect with the delicate rêverie, the deep love for the homeland, which Daudet valiantly expressed despite all the unceremonious ruckus going on relentlessly around her.
Ludovic Lamothe was nicknamed the “black Chopin”, partly for his undivided devotion for Chopin’s œuvre, which he frequently performed in concerts, but also for the influence Chopin had in his compositions. In case anyone had any doubts, one listen of his two “Feuillet d’albums” (Photo album pages) definitely cleared that up. Full of lyricism and tenderness, and let’s not forget nostalgia, those inconspicuous yet deeply affecting little gems would have surely pleased the role model himself.
Three of Liszt’s versions of Polish songs by Chopin brought us back to the Old Continent, still in full Romantic mood, and quite entertained us with their own personalities. “The Spring” enchanted, “The Ring” sparkled, and “The Drinking Song” exploded with raucousness. Through it all, Daudet demonstrated a solid command of her craft while paying meticulous attention to detail.
“La Notte”, which Liszt wrote after the death of his eldest daughter Blandine and wished to have played at his funeral, is as thoughtful as the name of the work on which it is based: “Il Penseroso” from the Années de Pelerinage suites. Despite the depressing subject matter, Daudet cleverly kept sentimentality and gloominess at bay to focus instead on the melancholy and wistfulness of the composition.
Next, “Élégie-Méringue” by Edmond Saintonge cheered everybody up with the first appearance of the popular méringue music and its sensual Afro-Caribbean rhythms of the afternoon. Fortunately for us, it would not be the last.
Justin Elie’s three popular Haitian méringues picked up this new theme and expanded the festive mood with three other examples of the engaging music that has come to represent Haitian culture and values, the last piece being especially remarkable with its strong, ominous dark undertones, and the implacable virtuosity with which Daudet handled them.
Ludovic Lamothe was back to wrap up the program with three méringue dances, starting with the “Habanera” during which, as I looked up, I could watch the surrounding tree tops far up in the sky seemingly swaying to the infectious, vaguely devilish rhythms coming up from the piano. A winning combination of classical exactness and Caribbean spontaneity with a touch of Haitian voodooism, those three danzas were an uplifting ending to an immensely satisfying concert.
Before we parted way though, Daudet generously treated us to two encores, back on the Old Continent, with Scriabin’s poignant Étude pour piano, Op. 2, No. 1, which he wrote when he was only 16 years old, and Liszt’s restless “Schlaflos! Frag und Antwort” (Insomnia: Question and Answer), which he wrote presumably when he could not sleep. They both proved, as if it were still necessary, that Daudet’s prodigious skills transcend time, space and genre.