REVIEW: Vaille Que Vivre with Juliette Binoche at the Philharmonie in Paris and Alexandre Tharaud’s CD Barbara

Curtain call for Juliette Binoche and Alexandre Tharaud
at a sold-out Philharmonie in Paris

Sebastian reports from Paris on the events and activity leading up to the twentieth anniversary of the death of  Barbara:

Monique Andrée Serf (1930-1997), known by her stage name, Barbara has a particular place in French chanson and culture in general. Known as “la grande Dame en noir de la chanson française”, she was never one to hold back on the moodiness and suffering. Her songs are poetic, but they also invariably bear the marks of a life full of pain and passion. The start of one radio interview sums up that persona very neatly:

Interviewer: Ça Va? (How are you?)
Barbara. Non, ça ne va pas…Quoi d’autre? (Not well. What else have you got to ask?)

The twentieth anniversary of her death is producing an avalanche of tributes, leading up to the anniversary itself on 24 November. There are about a dozen new commemorative books or CDs in the shops, there is a bio-pic with Jeanne Amalric in the title role (TRAILER). Gerard Depardieu has a show which he will be reprising later in the year. A major exhibition has just opened at the Philharmonie in Paris, and there various projects which have been steered into existence by French classical pianist Alexandre Tharaud, notably a 2-CD set of songs, and whole weekend of concerts at the Philharmonie, of which I attended the final event, a 90-minute performance featuring just Tharaud and French film star Juliette Binoche.

Alexandre Tharaud – Barbara (Erato Warner 0190295 759155)

The new double CD Barbara is packed with star turns. Vanessa Paradis and Jane Birkin have a song each, as does Rokia Traoré . There is always the question hovering as to whether these versions can improve or re-invent the originals, which in many cases have left an indelible mark? I would say that it is hard to imagine that anyone could replace the original of Septembre (Quel Joli Temps), and singer Camélia Jordana‘s take on it doesn’t anywhere near to the quiet intensity or the intuitive phasing of the original. On the other hand, when I heard Benabar‘s take on Y’aura du monde  – that jolly ditty about all the people who will turn up at her funeral…. BRIEF CLIP) he does it with a such conviction, verve and panache…. I have gone straight out and bought his most recent album. And Rokia Traoré’s Au Bois de Saint-Amand which starts with handclaps and disappears tantalisingly into silence is a delight. Juliette Binoche speaks rather than sings on the album. Her Vienne with classy salon-style accompaniment from violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist Alexandre Tharaud, whose project this album is, is very atmospheric indeed.

The second CD is of instrumental versions,  There is a fabulous accordion and bass clarinet playing from Roland Romanelli and Michel Portal on Nantes – a case of being spared the words which are an extreme caricature of Barbara’s gloominess. Some of Tharaud’s best playing is in a fine solo on Le Bel Âge .

“Rich in subtle autumnal shades…a triumph,” wrote Clive Davis describing this set HERE (£-wall). Absolutely.

Vaille Que Vivre at the Philharmonie de Paris – 14 October 2017

Whereas this two-hander for Juliette Binoche and pianist Alexandre Tharaud would have its natural home in a small theatre, the French actor has such presence and star quality, she made the Philharmonie feel like an intimate space. She sang, acted, prowled, danced draped herself over the piano, it was an astonishing tour de force.  The piano figure which starts the song Pierre came back again as an earworm or what the French call a “rengaine,” which added to the sense of obsessive circling. On a first hearing I couldn’t sense much narrative development, and yet the power of the performances, clever direction and lighting, good interaction between the two participants, excellent pacing, and above all Binoche’s sheer presence and virtuosity made 90 minutes pass very quickly indeed.  

Categories: miscellaneous

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