By Lawrence Budmen

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was the father of French musical Impressionism. His delicate wafts of color and misty harmonies changed music history. While best known for his orchestral and instrumental (particularly piano) works, Debussy wrote numerous songs and vocal scores that are highly atmospheric and beautiful. His typical bursts of vocal color demand singers of impeccable technique and musicality with glamorous voices to match. The wonderful American soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme gave a lustrous performance of Debussy's "Ariettes Oubliees" at her splendid recital on March 20 at the UM Gusman Concert Hall for Sunday Afternoons of Music.

The multi-colored poems of Paul Verlaine provided Debussy with the inspiration for this alternately playful and melancholy score. The vocal line is filled with huge leaps of register from soaring coloratura to rich low tones. The piano writing is lithe and bustling with Debussy's typical flashes of color and meter amid a sometimes ambiguous harmonic palette. Ms. Chandler-Eteme's glorious voice is a treasure. Her shining high notes are a sunburst of sound and her gleaming middle register glows with tinted vocal hues. Debussy's marvelous Verlaine settings seemed tailor made for her extraordinary gifts. Her sense of wit and spirit made "Cheveux de bois" ("Wooden Soldiers") a delectable vignette. Her meltingly beautiful soft tones and romantic ardor turned Green-"Aquarelle" ("Watercolor") into the most exquisite pastel tone painting. The entire cycle was sung with technical assurance and an endless stream of pure, flowing tonal beauty. The elegant, perfectly articulated piano accompaniment of Eric Malson was a joy to hear. Malson's exquisite playing so beautifully dovetailed Ms. Chandler-Eteme's vocal line that the two seemed to merge in that rare aura of musical perfection.

Ms. Chandler-Eteme lavished the same aristocratic musicianship and plush vocal luxuriance on Robert Schumann's moody, brooding setting of Adalbert von Chamisso's poetry "Frauenliebe und-Leben," Opus 42, Nos.1-8. This setting is a vivid musical portrait of Schumann's schizophrenic personality. Ms. Chandler-Eteme brought angelic beauty and nobility of utterance, dramatic expressivity, and an incredible range of vocal and emotional power to Schumann's dark cycle - eloquently supported by Malson's pianism. 

A set of operatic arias displayed the soprano's remarkable range and vocal ease. Her beautiful legato line in "Dove sono" from Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" ("The Marriage of Figaro") was matched by the silvery magic of her sound. The coloratura roulades of the allegro section were dispatched with pin point accuracy. Igor Stravinsky's post World War 2 neo-classical take on Mozart - "I Go to Him" from "The Rake's Progress" - was a fizzy display of high flying glitter in the upper register. Ms. Chandler-Eteme not only sang this showpiece with brilliance and aplomb but brought real emotional immediacy to Stravinsky's coolly austere aria. Two Puccini arias were the perfect vehicle for her gorgeous middle register. "Mi chiamano Mimi" from "La Boheme" was sung with great sincerity and ardor. "O mio babbino caro" from "Gianni Schicchi" was all liquid vocal beauty and fervent emotion. What a terrific operatic heroine this soprano will make! 

A group of spirituals were delivered with the vocal beauty of Mozart or Strauss and the fervor of a revival meeting. "Ride On, King Jesus" was stirring. The sheer enveloping warmth and gorgeous vocal delivery of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" was exhilarating. Only a great artist can sing these pieces with such moving directness. Malson's rousing piano line was grand indeed. As an encore Ms. Chandler-Eteme sang an unaccompanied version of "Over My Head, I Hear Something in the Air." What deep emotion and vocal purity she lavished on this gem! A memorable conclusion to a splendid concert! 

Janice Chandler-Eteme was long a favorite soloist of the late choral conductor Robert Shaw. She has worked with a who's who of the great conductors of our time. Her varied and beautifully chosen program revealed her to be that rarity - a true consummate artist. Ms. Chandler-Eteme offered the sleeper concert of the season! 

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