Christina Haldane and Carl Philippe Gionet – Journey to the Acadian Heartland

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Soprano Christina Haldane and pianist Carl Philippe Gionet, both with roots in Caraquet, N.B., have known each other for a long time.

Le 24 octobre 2022. Christina Haldane et Carl Philippe Gionet. Gracieusete: Denis Duquette

The former, of shared Acadian descent on her mother’s side and British on her father’s, earned most of her operatic experience in the U.K., where she spent most of her life. Then she moved back to Eastern Canada with teaching in mind and has been a staff instructor at Mount Allison University in Sackville since 2019. Gionet, for his part, is a multi-disciplinary artist who netted both his master’s and doctorate degrees at the Université de Montréal before pursuing more studies abroad and seeking out collaborations with internationally recognized European masters.

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Regardless of their times spent overseas, both are staunchly attached to their Acadian heritage. They made a point of that in 2017 at the Acadian festival in Caraquet where they performed the pianist’s arrangements of three traditional folksongs entitled L’escaouette, Wing tra la and Tout passe.

The seeds of the project we are now involved in were first planted back then,” Haldane says. ‟Those songs are my earliest childhood memories—and so important to me, because my mother sung them to me as a child. To me, Carl’s arrangements are a happy mix of those early memories and my own experiences in classical music. I want to draw in audiences to that and share my own cultural heritage at the same time—but in a different way, if you will.”

Both piano and voice are on an even footing throughout the album, not unlike the parity found in the French chanson tradition and that of the German lieder. In his arrangements, Gionet did not go back to any of the source materials so as not to be hemmed in by them, which led him to even tinker a bit with the melodies to enable the voice to stand out better—even to shuffle the order of a few refrains to his own liking, albeit always respectful to a piece and its own spirit. At first, we worked from oral sources,” he says. ‟We would free-associate without any written materials. My challenge then was to arrange those songs, which I already had under my fingers, but in a way to make them presentable in a recital setting. The actual writing of the music came about when the producers of the recording wanted to see them scored for studio use.”

If the arrangements seem rather straightforward, they are much more intricate than what the listening experience may tell us, just as Schubert lieder are in their own way. Yet Gionet wanted to remain minimalistic but still very precise in the performance guidelines. When it comes to an album favourite, Haldane has a soft spot for Le pommier doux, though she admits it was a challenge because of its basic character and multiple repetitions. That said, both agree on Partons, la mer est belle. ‟I really was not into doing that one at first,” Gionet admits, ‟but Christina convinced me. In fact, I left it for last: I finished it on Aug. 15, early in the morning while in P.E.I. “As I listened to a playback of my part, I just could not bring myself to sing the song because I was crying so much. And that may well the reason why I like it so much now.” Christina, for her part, says ‟Carl really turned out something so unique.” All told, the duo chose 12 folksongs and three newer works, these being Icare: Fragment No. 1, by Adam Sherkin with lyrics borrowed from Gionet’s own 2021 novel Icare (published by Prise de parole), Pour une Amérique engloutie and Il va sans dire, both by Jérôme Blais. These last pieces,” says the soprano with a hint of a chuckle, ‟balance out the more traditional material with something a little more modern, the Sherkin piece in particular. Musical lagniappes, if you will, to round out the album.”

Gionet’s Acadian folksongs arrangements will soon be published as a folio by Doberman-Yppan.

Tu me Voyais / Christine Raphaëlle Haldane et Carl Philippe Gionet / Leaf Music LM257

Record Review Tu me voyais /Christina Haldane, soprano; Carl Philippe Gionet, piano Leaf Music LM 257 Tu me voyais is a charming side of music that casts soprano Christina Haldane at the centre of a 15-piece repertoire, the first 12 being traditional Acadian folksongs arranged by her piano accompanist Carl Philippe Gionet. His scores are both inspiring and inspired by the mélodie française genre, full of subtle detail for each part. Laced repeatedly with strokes of Roussel for its refined writing and delicacy, the music is quite impressionistic, with an occasional surprise thrown in for good measure, notably in the dynamics and tempo changes that enhance the songs’ innate charms. In some instances, listeners may even forget about the origins of the pieces from a purely oral tradition and believe they are more like authentic French chansons. The considerable languor and nostalgia that run through several pieces will leave few, if any, unmoved—most notably in Écrivez-moi and Tout passe. The rendition of the well-known Partons, la mer est belle is simply poignant for all of its weighty silences and reworkings of the refrain that heighten the sense of drama borne in the lyrics. The one quibble, though, is that the words sometimes get lost in the more up-tempo pieces, even if the soprano’s French diction is mostly very good. One such case is L’escaouette, another Au chant de l’alouette.

The last three tracks on the album—Icare: Fragment No. 1, Pour une Amérique engloutie and Il va sans dire—are of a more contemporary vintage: the first by Adam Sherkin, the others by Jérôme Blais. While recognizing their qualities, it’s fair to wonder why these items were included in this folk-based album. That said, Pour une Amérique engloutie, with words by Acadian poet Léonard Forest and music by Blais, is simply haunting. Translation by Marc Chénard



This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


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