Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Opera North’s programme in the Howard Assembly Room is nothing if not varied. After last week’s venture into American Gothic with the Handsome Family – The Reviews Hub’s review sadly aborted because of the foul weather – the following Saturday focussed on the deliciously melodic world of the French chanson with accordion player Richard Galliano and guitarist Sylvain Luc.
The concert was billed as a tribute to Edith Piaf, but the audience learned nothing about Piaf except that her songs sound wonderful when played with so much lyricism, wit, drama and sense of fun by two virtuoso musicians. After amiably wishing us a good evening, in French, the two musicians addressed not a word to the audience until 35 minutes in when Luc announced an accordion solo with the revealing words, “Richard Galliano”. Fortunately, after they opened with two unidentified numbers which captured the spirit of the bal musette (though the accordionist in the corner was never this good!), the third piece was the immediately recognisable La Goualante du Pauvre Jean, starting with a jazzy guitar outburst and going on to play merry games with shifting rhythms until the “all fall down” coda brought smiles all round.
Galliano and Luc have both worked at the highest level in many different fields of music, both noted jazz musicians, Galliano famed for his interpretations of the tango king, Astor Piazzolla, and this showed in the way melodies were embedded within improvisations or oblique introductions. Galliano’s solo feature was one to go off-piste in non-Piaf material, Granados’ haunting Andaluza beautifully played within the setting of Galliano’s own more dramatic melodies. La Vie en Rose slid unannounced into a charming version of Charles Chaplin’s “Smile” and the two tunes were still nodding affectionately at each other in the wistful coda. For this number, incidentally, Galliano switched to an instrument that looked like a melodica with buttons, not keys – let’s call it a mouth accordion – it sounded good, anyway.
Often the two musicians’ jazz background shone through, in swinging improvisations or a rhythmic drive that belied the absence of rhythm instruments as such, but they could play it straight down the line, too, as in a lovely tender account of Hymne a l’Amour, fluttering accordion introduction followed by a melody statement full of restrained emotion. There was nothing restrained about the concert’s closer, La Foule, endless increasingly virtuoso variations before finishing on a manic repeated riff. After that, a gently melodic encore, John Lennon’s Imagine, was necessary to calm everyone down.
The duo is an increasingly popular format in popular music and jazz and, in the hands of Richard Galliano and Sylvain Luc, totally sympathetic musically, it’s not difficult to see why: the easy understanding and interplay, the shifts in tempo, rhythm and mood signalled by no more than a look, and both men’s open enjoyment of the other’s playing and their musical partnership.
Reviewed on 24 March 2018 | Image: Contributed