A French evening with Anne Sofie von Otter

Anne Sofie von Otter and her musicians venture into challenging French terrain, touching the hearts of Verbier festivalgoers with their songs.

Par Alexandra Grillmeier | In English | 1 août 2014

‘Douce France’ is the name of the concert featuring Anne Sofie von Otter and her musicians. The first half of the program contains French Lieder from Fauré, Poulenc and Saint-Saens, whilst the second half features French Chansons of a Parisian variety. The concert takes place in Verbier’s modern village church, which has become the festival’s concert stage for renowned classical stars. Pretty in pink, the Mezzo-soprano strides out of the vestry. On her side walks her long-standing accompanist Bengt Forsberg. Focused and introspective, she performs her songs about love, nostalgia, paradise and pleasure with an authentic suspense. The piano knows how to accompany, when to emphasize certain nuances, and to come to the fore when necessary. Based on Apollinaire’s poems, the Banalités by Francis Poulenc are deeply moving. Anne Sofie von Otter immerses herself in the poetic text and brings it into focus, conveying the spoken word through her singing.

After the short interval the second part of the evening commences. With a little scepticism you glance at the program of typically French Chanson singers like Leo Ferré, Charles Trenet, Georges Moustaki and Barbara, as they are being performed by four Swedes and a Norwegian. Anne Sofie von Otter has changed her concert clothes into a glittering jacket, and introduces her band members: Bengt Forsberg on the piano, Stian Carstensen on the accordion, Gustav Lundgren on the classical guitar and Leigh Mesh on the bass. The Quintet commences with Jacques Préverts ‘Les feuilles mortes’. From the outset the ensemble is balanced, bringing its listeners into 20th century Paris, creating nostalgia and poetry. The accordion plays an important role, not only because it complements the songs incredibly well, as they depict Paris and the French countryside, but also because the Norwegian Stian Carstensen is a talented accordionist. He becomes the pawn of Anne Sofie von Otter, producing a melancholy echo of her melodies. Cartensen and his band member Gustav Lundgren demonstrate their virtuoso status by occasionally playing short duos of gypsy music and dizzying polkas. The evening’s emotional climax is Barbara’s world-unifying song ‘Göttingen’:{ ‘Et tant pis pour ceux qui s'étonnent, Et que les autres me pardonnent, Mais les enfants ce sont les mêmes, A Paris ou à Göttingen…’ }

The public is overwhelmed, they could continue listening to her forever. The musicians are well aware of this, and follow up the applause with several encores. Who would have believed that Scandinavians could play French Chansons with such triumph!

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