Francois Le Roux

Baritone Francois Le Roux, a veteran of world-class opera houses, gave an elegant account of the French chanson in his recital at the French Embassy on Wednesday. The event launched "Theatre of Song," an admirable new series sponsored by La Maison Francaise and conceived by the baritone's pianist, Mikhail Hallak. Covering a half-century of creativity, the performance highlighted some of the most characteristic examples of an ever-so-French genre -- the melodie -- by the composers Gounod, Saint-Saens, Duparc, Faure, Debussy, Poulenc and Ravel.

The melodie is like nothing else. It does not reach into the soul with the yearning that impels the German lied. Nor does it cascade into the garlands of melody that can adorn a single syllable of an Italian aria. And the English song has a deeply ingrained mellifluousness that sets it distinctly apart.

But the French melodie welds music and poem into a single entity with a faithfulness to the stressed and unstressed syllables of spoken French to an extent that no other song type can match.

Unfortunately, for audience members without texts -- and there were many -- it was not possible to grasp this singularly French way of setting music to words; they were simply left adrift as to what Le Roux's musical artistry was expressing. One could only bask in his infinitely tapered pianissimos and impassioned resonance, along with Hallak's sophisticated piano partnership, and in the intense beauty they conveyed.

-- Cecelia Porter


Electronic dance music lost its battle to become a mainstream pop style, but it still rules at such clubs as Five. That's why the two masterminds of Unkle, a British rhythm 'n' tunes collective, emphasized the beats during their two-hour-plus set late Wednesday night at the techno-oriented nightspot.

James Lavelle founded the Mo' Wax label, which specialized in rhythmically easygoing acid-jazz and trip-hop, and Richard File is a singer-songwriter who composed much of the music on the group's new U.S. release, "Never, Never, Land." Yet the duo's "decks and effects" performance sublimated the album's songs into a sequence of driving, nearly nonstop blips, thumps and whooshes.

Several songs from the new album did make appearances, and one of them, "Reign," was featured: It was extended to almost 20 minutes near the beginning of the show and resurfaced toward the end of the performance, which lasted some 10 minutes after the bartenders marked 2 a.m. by drawing a black curtain across the liquor selection. Unkle's own material, which tends to be grandiose but mid-tempo, was supplemented by remixes of more outgoing songs by disco icon Donna Summer and punky rockers Nirvana and the White Stripes.

The result may not have been the best advertisement for "Never, Never, Land," but it was appropriate to the venue. While most of the audience just listened, the fans who seemed to get the most out of the evening were the ones who danced.

-- Mark Jenkins