Encountering and quickly embracing Poème: Songs of Life, Love and Loss, the sweeping and majestic piano and vocal classical compendium by pianist composer Danaë Vlasse and others, is like spending a full evening with someone and getting to know their deeper nuances long after the brief glance that first caught your attention.
I first learned about Vlasse’s multitude of gifts with her guest appearance on “Song of Compassion,” a haunting choral piece she co-wrote with classical crossover singer Sangeeta Kaur for the latter’s critically acclaimed collection Compassion.
Vlasse is credited on that track with crystal bowl and harp, but her astounding gifts as a pianist – while well known to others via earlier works like Solstice, the two time 2018 Global Music Awards winner featuring violinist Mischa Lefkowitz – were not on my musical radar until I heard the elegant and free-flowing, soul-transporting instrumentals at the heart of the otherwise vocal-dominated collection - “Piano Nocturne No. 4 (Nocturne Pour Nelson)” and “Piano Fantaisie No. 2 (“Swan Song”).
In the collection’s insightful, lushly illustrated liner notes, she includes English language poems to be read along with each piece, including intense, verses about life’s end that she penned for the latter. The other seven pieces, all composed by Vlasse, are transcendent works showcasing pianist Robert Thies and the soaring, emotionally impactful operatic soprano vocals of Kaur (on “Un Lendamain” and the surreal dreamlike closer “Serenade de Verlaine,” featuring cellist John Walx) and Hila Plitmann on the remainder – from the intimate, sparsely arranged piano-vocal duet openers “Le Baiser” and “Demain des l’Aube” through “Reverie ‘La Lune,’ a dramatic and haunting meditation on the enchantment and vast mystery on the moon.
One of the other enticing foundational elements of Poème is that the singing is all in French; “Demain, Des l’Aube” is a poem by Victor Hugo set to music, and the other pieces feature lyrics penned by Vlasse (with “Barbara” inspired by the 1946 Jacquest Prevert poem “Paroles.”) They sound splendid sung in a Romance language, but the translations in the liners are a must to understand the full sweep of emotions she presents (ranging from sorrow to anger, seduction and rapturous joy) as well as her passion for family and celebration of nature.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, many of the lyrics lend themselves thematically to the present global situation, where we’re all at once lamenting present circumstances and mourning people and old ways of life while also seeking hope and a way forward amidst the chaos. The piece that speaks most powerfully to the moment is the lyrical “Barbara,” whose source poem “Paroles” was written about the devastation of a city during World War II. This interpretation offers a Romanticized view of femininity and celebrates the salvation that a beautiful woman embodies for a war-ravaged city. We can relate. We all need our angels at this time, and Vlasse’s recording offers numerous musical opportunities to find them.
Listen to Poème here: https://open.spotify.com/album/1lpfM3zLVfUuP49fEioyNT