musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

Festival Early Music Utrecht 2010

Part One   Part Two   Part Three

Part One

"La belle danse" [1]
Capriccio Stravagante - Les 24 Violons/Skip Sempé
27 August, Vredenburg Leidscherijn

The Couperin dynasty [2]
Ludmila Tschakalova, harpsichord
28 August, Lutherse Kerk

"Le goût italien" (Campra, Lully, Mascitti) [3]
Roberta Invernizzi, soprano; La Risonanza/Fabio Bonizzoni
28 August, Geertekerk

"Grands Motets" (Campra, Desmarest, Lalande, Lully) [4]
Le Parnasse Français/Louis Castelain
28 August, Jacobikerk

F Couperin: "Motets and Versets" [5]
Caroline Weynants, soprano; Alain Buet, baritone
Il Gardellino/Jan De Winne
28 August, Pieterskerk

"At home in Versailles" (Jacquet de la Guerre, F Couperin, d'Agincourt) [6]
Aurélien Delage, harpsichord
30 August, Lutherse Kerk

"Airs de cour" (Charpentier, L. Couperin, Lambert, Marais, Sieur de Sainte Colombe) [7]
Eugénie Warnier, soprano; Julien Léonard, viola da gamba; Arnaud de Pasquale, harpsichord
30 August, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh

F Couperin: "Pièces de Violes" [8]
Ricercar Consort/Philippe Pierlot
30 August, Geertekerk

Campra: Le carnaval de Venise [9]
Soloists, Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
30 August, Vredenburg Leidscherijn

The Festival Early Music Utrecht has started last Friday. The theme of this 29th edition of the festival is "Louis Quatorze". The programme covers pretty much all the various genres of music which were composed during the reign of the Sun King, from large scale religious music, theatre music and orchestral works to music for the salons, chamber music and pieces for one instrument.

A festival like this offers the opportunity to present little-known repertoire and new insights into the performance practice. The latter was the case in the opening concert, which was given by Capriccio Stravagante, directed from the harpsichord by Skip Sempé [1]. For a long time the three inner parts of orchestral music by Lully and his contemporaries have been divided over violins and violas. But in fact these were originally written for three different instruments: haute-contre de violon, taille de violon and quinte de violon. Only fairly recently these instruments have been reconstructed and this concert provided the opportunity to present them. Also notable is that the ensemble consisted of 24 string instruments, exactly the number of Louis XIV's elite orchestra, the '24 Violons du Roy'. The main composers in the programme were Jean-Baptiste Lully and his pupil Marin Marais, but also Georg Muffat, who was strongly influenced by Lully. This resulted in a captivating concert, also because of the style of performance which was theatrical and full of contrast. The 'prologue' of the concert was a little less convincing. It contained music by William Brade, an English composer who worked in Hamburg. It seems very unlikely his music was ever performed with French string instruments, and it was certainly not meant to be performed with an orchestra of 24 players. The same is true for some courantes by François Caroubel in the arrangement of Michael Praetorius. The instrumental pieces were interspersed by vocal items from operas by Lully. These were sung by Judith van Wanroij (soprano), Benjamin Alunni (baritone) and Alain Buet (bass). The former was a bit too penetrating, and dominated the other two singers in the trios. Such extracts from larger works are always problematic, as they often lose their effect when they are isolated from their context. But on the whole this concert was the ideal appetizer of things to come.

The second day had everything: theatrical music, large-scale and intimate religious music and pieces for harpsichord.
Ludmilla Tschakalova, a pupil of Kenneth Gilbert and Jos Van Immerseel, played a programme with music by three members of the Couperin dynasty: Louis, François and Armand-Louis [2]. Ms Tschakalova's playing was refined, sensitive and expressive. She started off with a sequence of pieces by Louis Couperin, ending with the superb Pavanne in f sharp minor. From the 3e Ordre Ms Tschakalova had chosen four character pieces, among them the particularly beautifully performed 'La Favorite'. The concert ended with the complete 26e Ordre in f sharp minor, ending with 'La Pantomime', one of the pieces where I found Ms Tschakalova's interpretation a bit too restrained. That was also the case in some of the pieces by Armand-Louis Couperin, performed between the two Ordres by François. Especially 'L'Arlequine, ou la Adam' could have been a bit more theatrical. But these are only marginal comments to a compelling recital.

Recently Glossa released a disc with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully on mainly Italian texts, recorded by La Risonanza, directed by Fabio Bonizzoni. Some of those pieces were also performed during the concert in the Geertekerk, with additional music - also on Italian texts - by André Campra [3]. The soloist was Roberta Invernizzi, and although Bonizzoni had three fine singers at his disposal for his recording, Ms Invernizzi is in a class of her own. She has a strong and flexible voice which seems to have to technical limits, and her approach is very theatrical, which apparently comes natural to her. Her performances were also exemplary in regard to ornamentation. The character of every single piece was fully explored, from the subtle and expressive Deh, piangete al pianto mio, a plainte italienne by Lully, to Campra's rage aria Vuo vendetta from L'Europe galante. La Risonanza was a perfect match with its expressive playing. In between the items by Lully and Campra it played the Passacaglia variata by Michele Mascitti, an Italian-born composer who worked in Paris, and whose oeuvre deserves more attention.

The last two concerts I attended were both devoted to religious music, but of very different kinds. Choir and orchestra of La Parnasse Français, conducted by Louis Castelain, performed four grands motets by Campra, Desmarest, Lalande and Lully [4]. The grand motet is a religious work, usually on a text from the Book of Psalms, for solo voices, petit choeur and grand choeur. Campra was represented with a setting of the Magnificat, a work which was only recently discovered. Whereas the other pieces were written for Louis XIV's Chapelle royale, this work was written well before Campra was associated with the Chapelle royale. In Lalande's Regina coeli the parts of haute-contre, taille and quinte de violon had to be reconstructed. The most remarkable piece was Desmarest's Usquequo Domine, especially because of the fugues in the opening section and the use of chromaticism later on. Unfortunately these features were not that clearly noticeable in the performances. The main reasons were the lack of transparency in the tutti sections and the too indifferentiated approach, in particular in regard to dynamics. The performances as a whole were too rigid and too straightforward. The soloists generally gave good accounts of their parts: Judith Gautier (soprano), Romain Champion (tenor) and Benoît Arnould (bass). The singing of Jeffrey Thompson (hautecontre) didn't always appeal to me, as he tended to strain in forte passages. Simply ridiculous was his solo 'Illumina oculos meos' in Desmarest's Usquequo Domine. This piece may have theatrical traits, that is no reason to sing the words "Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him" as if it is an opera aria. To sum it up: an interesting programme in creditable and often good performances, but not satisfying in every respect.

Petits motets by François Couperin were at the centre of a late-night concert by Il Gardellino, directed by Jan De Winne [5]. Petits motets are small-scale religious works for solo voices and basso continuo, sometimes with additional instrumental parts. Here these were played on transverse flutes, oboes and violins. Many of Couperin's petits motets belong to the genre of the versets du motet, in which just one verse from a Psalm is set. The soloists were the Belgian soprano Caroline Weynants and the French baritone Alain Buet. The former has a very nice voice, which suits this repertoire well, but at first her performances were a bit flat. Later on she sang with more expression. Alain Buet's interpretations are certainly not short on expression, but I have some problems with his voice which I find somwhat harsh. I probably got used to it as in the second half of the programme I started to appreciate his performances. The last piece on the programme, Salvum me fac Deus, was one of the highlights, and Alain Buet captured the Affekt of this piece quite well. In addition to the vocal items the members of Il Gardellino played some instrumental music by Couperin. They gave fine performances but in the 8e Concert dans de goût théatral the oboes of Marcel Ponseele and Ann Van Lancker were sometimes a bit too dominant.

This year the festival has three artists in residence: the harpsichordist Skip Sempé, the gambist Philippe Pierlot and the soprano Eugénie Warnier. The latter two were in action on Monday. There was also an instrument in residence, a harpsichord which Jean-Henry Hemsch built in 1751, and which is owned by Frédérick Haas. This was definitely something special as historical instruments are hardly ever played in public concerts.
On Monday it was played by the young French harpsichordist Aurélien Delage, who performed music by three composers who were all connected to the court of Louis XIV [6]. He started off with the Suite in A by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, who performed as a child prodigy at the court and enjoyed the King's protection since. Delage had a kind of slow start and his performance came to life only in the last movement, a chaconne. Extracts from the 5e Ordre by François Couperin were preceded by the 5th Prelude from L'art de toucher le clavecin, and Delage also played the 21e Ordre. His playing was neat and nice, but I wasn't really struck by his performances which I found too undifferentiated. The character pieces didn't always come off. He also played three extracts from the Pièces de clavecin of 1733 by François d'Agincourt, a lesser-known composer from the first half of the 18th century.

If a performer is made artist in residence one may expect some exceptional performances. To be honest, in the case of Eugénie Warnier I haven't been able to discover the reason why she was labelled as such. She presented a programme of airs de cour, songs for solo voice with basso continuo, which were very popular in France in the 17th century [7]. Two composers who have written such pieces were represented in the programme: Michel Lambert and Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Lambert's air Ombre de mon amant is by far his best-known composition and was performed during the concert, but he has more to offer. Likewise, Charpentier's contributions to this genre are hardly known, but deserve the attention they were given. Eugénie Warnier's interpretation didn't do them much justice, though. She has a theatrical personality which is suitable for a large opera house, but not for music written for the salon. Her theatrical interpretation missed the point as intimacy was mostly absent. Problematic was also her use of vibrato and the fact that the texts were often hard to understand. Julien Léonard and Arnaud de Pasquale played some instrumental pieces by Louis Couperin, Sieur de Sainte Colombe and Marin Marais. Their performances were alright, but not very compelling.

If there is any performer who deserves to be named artist in residence it is the Belgian gambist Philippe Pierlot, as his many recordings prove. With his colleages in his Ricercar Consort - Emmanuel Balssa (viola da gamba), Eduardo Egüez (theorbo, guitar) and François Guerrier (harpsichord) - he played a programme with music by François Couperin [8]. He not only performed the 1st Suite in e minor for viola da gamba and bc, but had also selected some pieces from Couperin's four books of harpsichord music, and arranged them for viola da gamba and bc. That worked surprisingly well, giving the impression they were meant for this scoring from the very beginning. Pierlot and his colleagues came up with engaging and compelling performances. Particularly beautiful were the Plainte pour les violes from the collection Les goûts-réünis and character pieces like La Séduisante and Les Silvains. The Suite in e minor was also played very well, with the closing passacaille as the highlight. So far this was one of the best concerts of this year's festival.

The festival tries to programme a theatrical work from time to time, preferably in a scenic performance. But that is very expensive, and makes big inroads on the festival's limited budget. This year we had to be satisfied with a concertante performance of an opéra-comique by André Campra, Le carnaval de Venise [9]. It was an innovative work in several ways, and that probably was the reason it wasn't received with much enthusiasm when it was first performed in 1699. It can't be the music which made it a failure as Campra shows again here that he was a creative composer with a great feeling for the theatre.
One could argue that a concertante performance of a baroque opera is often a blessing in disguise as one doesn't need to get annoyed about a tasteless and unhistorical staging. And I certainly didn't miss the staging here, as the soloists gave engaging and theatrical performances. Isabelle Druet (soprano) was especially impressive in the roles of Minerve and La Fortune. She has a particularly nice voice, and gave differentiated performances of her roles. Hardly less convincing were the sopranos Marina de Liso and Sarah Tynan as Léonore and Euridice respectively, and so was Judith van Wanroij as Isabelle, who I liked much more than in the opening concert. The basses Andrew Foster Williams and Edwin Crossley-Mercer gave very good accounts of their roles as the rival lovers Rodolphe and Léandre. Fine performances also came from Anders J. Dahlin (tenor) as Orphée and the baritone Luigi De Donato as Carnaval and Pluton. Le Concert Spirituel delivered a lively and colourful realisation of the orchestral score. This is definitely a work which should be available in a CD recording, and this cast would be close to ideal for such a recording.

Part Two

"Couperin & Duphly" [10]
Nicolau de Figueiredo, harpsichord
31 August, Lutherse Kerk

"Apothéoses" (François Couperin, Rebel) [11]
Ricercar Consort/Philippe Pierlot
31 August, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh

"The French cantata" (Campra, F Couperin, Lully, Naudot) [12]
Eugénie Warnier, soprano; La Simphonie du Marais/Hugo Reyne
31 August, Geertekerk

"Music for the Jesuits" (Charpentier, Carissimi, du Mont) [13]
Les Arts Florissants/Paul Agnew
31 August, Domkerk (Cathedral)

"The discovery of the style luthé" (d'Anglebert, F & L Couperin, E Gaultier, Perrine, de Visée) [14]
Paola Erdas, harpsichord
1 September, Lutherse Kerk

Marais: "À deux violes - À trois violes" [15]
Wieland Kuijken, Mieneke van der Velden, Ricardo Rodríguez Miranda, viola da gamba; Glen Wilson, harpsichord
1 September, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh

"Pour la chambre" (F Couperin, JM Hotteterre, Marais, P Philidor) [16]
Capriccio Stravagante/Skip Sempé
1 September, Geertekerk

"Rousseau vs Rameau" [17]
Sabine Devieilhe, soprano; Anders J. Dahlin, hautecontre; Alain Buet, baritone; Johan Leysen, actor
1 September, Vredenburg Leidsche Rijn

"Couperin & Jacquet de la Guerre" [18]
Blandine Verlet, harpsichord
1 September, Lutherse Kerk

On Tuesday the Brazilian harpsichordist Nicolau de Figueiredo played the Hemsch harpsichord in a programme with music by François Couperin and Jacques Duphly [10]. He played Couperin's 7e ordre and 25e Ordre, both of which consist only of character pieces. De Figueiredo delivered performances full of contrasts, in which every piece was given a distinct profile. The tempi were pretty fast, sometimes at the cost of a clear articulation. Jacques Duphly was represented with five pieces. Médée was given a very dramatic performance. Sometimes, like in La Forqueray, I would have preferred a more moderate tempo. But there certainly wasn't a dull moment in this recital.

The Ricercar Consort performed again, and this time it wasn't Philippe Pierlot who was the central figure. On the programme the two Apothéoses by François Couperin [11], written at the memory of Arcangelo Corelli and Jean-Baptiste Lully respectively. Behind them is an aesthetic programme: they are a plea for the mixture of the Italian and the French style, the so-called goûts réunis. The ensemble consisted of Marc Hantaï and Georges Barthel (transverse flute), François Fernandez and Sophie Gent (violin), Philippe Pierlot (viola da gamba), Eduardo Egüez (theorbo en and guitar) and François Guerrier (harpsichord). Apart from some technical definciencies here and there both pieces were given lively and expressive interpretations. Couperin's Apothéoses are in the tradition of the tombeau, and therefore the Tombeau de Monsieur de Lully by Jean-Féry Rebel fit well into the programme and was performed in between the two pieces by Couperin.

One of the most important musical genres of the French baroque is the chamber cantata. In particular as the influence of the Italian style was growing a large number of such pieces were written. One of the main composers of chamber cantatas was André Campra, whose cantata Arion was performed in a concert by La Simphonie du Marais, directed by Hugo Reyne, with the soprano Eugénie Warnier as the soloist [12]. It was the second time I heard her sing, and my impression was more favourable than before. The acoustics was in her favour, and her operatic approach is more suitable here than in the programme of airs de cour. Even so, I find her voice unpleasantly harsh in forte passages. The programme started with some airs from Lully's opera Atys, emphasizing the connection between the opera and the chamber cantata. The concert ended with the Cantate pour le jour de la Saint-Louis by Jean-Philippe Rameau. The part for transverse flute was played on the recorder and the oboe alternately, and that wasn't a great idea. In particular the choice of the oboe was ill-judged as it didn't blend well with the strings, and unfortunately Hugo Reyne didn't play it particularly well either. Also played were François Couperin's sonata L'Astrée and one of the earliest solo concertos in France, the Concerto for recorder, two violins and bc in C, op. 17,5 by Jacques-Christophe Naudot.

At the time Campra composed his chamber cantatas the Italian style was generally accepted in France. That was certainly not the case when Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote his music. As a result he never received a position at the court. Les Arts Florissants, directed by Paul Agnew, performed in the Cathedral with a programme of music by Charpentier and Henry du Mont [13], who were both strongly influenced by the Italian style. In the case of Du Mont that influence is less ostentatious, which could explain that he did get a job at the royal court. Two pieces on a French sacred text were sung, together with some instrumental pieces. A bit more of him would have been nice, but maybe he will be given more attention at some time in the future.
The programme started with a setting of the Magnificat by Charpentier which was followed by two pieces by Carissimi whose pupil Charpentier is assumed to have been. We heard the motet Sub umbra Jesu, scored for three voices and bc - according to New Grove of doubtful authenticity -, and Turbabuntur impii, catalogued as a motet, but in character close to the genre of the oratorio, as the subtitle Lamentatio damnatorum indicates. From the oeuvre of Charpentier we heard several Leçons de Ténèbres and five of the 10 Méditations pour le Carême. In particular the 7e Méditation: Tenebrae factae sunt was one of the most moving pieces in the programme. The concert ended with 3e Leçon de Ténèbres du vendredi (H 137), the most profound piece of the concert. Unfortunately such a piece is lost on some people: after a short silence some moron in the audience cried "bravo!".
Les Arts Florissants consisted of male voices only, from hautecontre to bass, with an instrumental ensemble, consisting of two recorders, two treble viols, bass viol, lute and organ. The expressive character of the music was fully explored by the singers and players who gave simply brilliant and often breathtaking performances. As far as I am concerned this concert goes into the annals as one of the highlights in the history of the festival.

On the first day of September it was the Italian harpsichordist Paola Erdas who had the honour to play the historical Hemsch harpsichord [14]. She concentrated on the connection between lute and harpsichord music in the 17th century. As she wrote in her programme notes: "The harpsichord was the new lute". Compositional techniques of the lute were adapted to the harpsichord in the 17th century. Ms Erdas played several lute pieces which at the end of the century were transcribed for the lute by a certain Perrine. In addition some lute pieces by Ennemond Gaultier and Robert de Visée and original harpsichord works by Jean-Henry d'Anglebert and by Louis and François Couperin were played. This resulted in a compelling programme which was brilliantly interpreted by Paola Erdas. The performance of lute pieces at the harpsichord sounded very naturally, the finest being Ennemond Gaultier's La Cascade de Mr de Launay. Three character pieces by François Couperin - La Ténébreuse, La Favorite and particularly Les Sylvains - were given fine performances. The concert ended with Louis Couperin's magnificent Passacaille in C.

A festival like this is an excellent opportunity to hear new and mostly young artists who are at the start of their career. But - of course - their performances are not always totally convincing. Therefore it is also nice to hear an 'old hand' once in a while. The Belgian gambist Wieland Kuijken is definitely an 'old hand', being one of the pioneers of his instrument. During about 40 years he has performed and recorded the best of 17th and 18th century music for the viola da gamba. In Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh he was joined by Mieneke van der Velden and Ricardo Rodríguez Miranda (viola da gamba) and Glen Wilson (harpsichord) in music for two and three viole da gamba by Marin Marais [15]. In particular the pieces for three viols is uncommon: Marais was the first to publish music for this scoring, which he himself may have performed with his children. The concert didn't start that well as the performers were a bit out of sync and there were some problems in the intonation. But soon they raised their game and started to play really well. The Suite for two gambas and bc in C from the 1st Book was nicely played, in particular the closing Tombeau de Mr. Meliton. The Suite for 3 gambas and bc in D with nine movements received an expressive performance, with a swinging menuet, a sprightly character piece (Petite Paysanne) and an incisive rondeau.

Skip Sempé, one of the artists in residence, performed again on Wednesday, this time with his ensemble Capriccio Stravagante in chamber music by Marin Marais, Pierre Philidor, Jacques-Marrin Hotteterre and François Couperin [16]. The programme book referred to "innovative wind in the French baroque", so it was a bit disappointing that in this programme only the recorder was heard. The title specifically referred to Hotteterre and Philidor, both from musical dynasties in which wind instruments played a major role. Julien Martin played a sonata by Philidor and some brunettes - popular songs, often set for instruments - by Hotteterre. The programme ended with one of Couperin's Concerts Royaux - a change in the programme which Skip Sempé announced without telling which of the Concerts Royaux was played. It was again performed on the recorder, a not very convincing choice. Julien Martin played well, but not very compelling. The best part of the concert were the pieces for viola da gamba and bc by Marais, in particular the Tombeau de Sieur de Sainte Colombe, with Joshua Cheatham on the gamba.

The last years saw the rise of the Holland Baroque Society to some prominence. It has a liking for unconventional programmes. Sometimes music is presented in some sort of context, and this time the context was the Querelle des bouffons, the debate about the relative merits of French and Italian opera [17]. One of the participants in the debate was the philosopher and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Fragments from his writings were read by the Flemish actor Johan Leysen, and extracts from theatrical works by Rameau were performed as a kind of 'commentary' on Rousseau's views. What looks interesting on paper doesn't always work in practice, and that was also the case here. The connection between the readings and the music wasn't always clear, and some extracts from Rameau's works were cut short in such a way that they were becoming meaningless. In addition the readings were sometimes hard to understand. The music was fine, though, and so was the playing of the Holland Baroque Society, directed by Alexis Kossenko. And the three soloists gave outstanding interpretations of the arias from the various operas by Rameau: Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Anders J. Dahlin (hautecontre) and Alain Buet (bariton). I felt the latter's voice was a little too light for some roles, in particular that of Huascar in Les Indes Galantes, though. Despite the fact that the concept didn't really work it was an entertaining night.

Almost any lover of the harpsichord knows the French harpsichordist Blandine Verlet. She was called the grande dame of the harpsichord in France by the organisation. As far as I can remember she has never performed in this festival. And as I know her from her recordings but have never heard her live I didn't want to miss her concert at midnight [18]. Her performance was attended by a number of renowned harpsichordists, which is an indication of her status. And she fully lived up to it. She started with a suite by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, and her performance was more convincing that Aurélien Delage's some days before. Anyone who has never heard music by this composer will have been convinced of its qualities by Ms Verlet's engaging performance. It started with a beautifully played prélude non mesuré, we heard some nice courantes, an expressive sarabande and a splendid chaconne, after which the suite closed with a graceful menuet. Then the 8e Ordre by François Couperin was given a compelling performance, with Ms Verlet taking some amount of freedom without ever destroying the rhythmic pulse. It was admirable how she made one feel the rhythm of every single piece. Whether the sarabande L'Unique or the light-hearted rondeau, it was played with the same kind of engagement which was a feature of this performance. Highlight was the long passacaille, in which she brilliantly worked toward the climax. Some concerts are just good. Some stick in your memory. This was one of them.

Part Three

Couperin, Barrière, Forqueray & Balbastre" [19]
Michael Borgstede, harpsichord
2 September, Lutherse Kerk

F Couperin: "Petits Motets" [20]
Ensemble Pierre Robert/Frédéric Desenclos
2 September, Pieterskerk

F Couperin: Les Nations [21]
Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
2 September, Geertekerk

Campra: In convertendo, Requiem [22]
Soloists, Les Pages & Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, Orchestre des Musiques Anciennes et à Venir/Olivier Schneebeli
2 September, Domkerk (Cathedral)

"To the revolution and back" [23]
Skip Sempé, harpsichord
3 September, Lutherse Kerk

"Les contrefaiseurs" [24]
Maarten Koningsberger, baritone; Musica ad Rhenum/Jed Wentz
3 September, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh

Bouzignac, Moulinié: Motets [25]
Les Pages & Les Chantres and Les Simphonistes du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles/Olivier Schneebeli
3 September, Domkerk (Cathedral)

Rameau: Les surprises de l'amour (extracts) [26]
Soloists, Ensemble vocal Mélisme(s), Les Nouveaux Caractères/Sébastien d'Hérin
3 September, Vredenburg Leidsche Rijn

"Motets for Montmartre" [27]
Ensemble Correspondances/Sébastien Daucé
4 September, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh

Gilles: Lamentations, Requiem [28]
Soloists, Choeur de Chambre Les Éléments, Orchestre Les Passions/Jean-Marc Andrieu
4 September, Domkerk (Cathedral)

On Thursday the Hemsch harpsichord had been removed, and the artists in the series of harpsichord recitals had to go back to copies of historical instruments. Michael Borgstede, who some years ago recorded the complete harpsichord oeuvre of François Couperin, played a copy of a Taskin from 1769 [19]. He started with the 23e Ordre by Couperin, consisting of five character pieces. Two of them have a burlesque character, L'Arlequine - referring to the commedia dell'arte - and Les satires. Both were given evocative performances. Next on the programme was Jean-Baptiste Barrière who is best-known for his cello sonatas. In 1739 he published a collection with harpsichord music, from which Borgstede played the Sonata IV. It turned out to be a highly virtuosic piece, the opening adagio of which mostly consisted of scales. I would like to hear more from him to assess whether this collection is a really worthwhile addition to the repertoire. Then Borgstede gave a fine performance of the 1e Suite by Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, with well-known pieces like La Forqueray, La Portugaise, La Bellmont and La Couperin. These pieces are very virtuosic again, but they also have some substance and Borgstede didn't overlook that feature. The music by Claude-Bénigne Balbastre is often close to triviality; Borgstede had selected three of the better pieces: La de Caze, La d'Héricourt and La Bellaud.

Earlier this week Il Gardellino had performed some of François Couperin's petits motets. The Ensemble Pierre Robert [20] performed a programme with some other pieces in this genre, for one to three voices and bc, some with additional parts for two violins. These pieces turned out to be nice miniatures in which the influence of the Italian style is unmistakable, for instance in regard to text expression. That came off quite well in the performances. Unfortunately Marcel Beekman, singing the hautecontre part, was sometimes a bit too dominating. He could sing a little less loud. Instead of Robert Getchell - who always has been a member of this ensemble - Jan-Willem Schaafsma sang the tenor part. He is a good singer, but had some problems with the top notes of his part and also lacked a bit of volume. And as there is a slight vibrato in his voice he didn't blend that well with Beekman and with Robbert Muuse, who sang the bass parts beautifully. But all in all it was an enjoyable concert, in which also two sonatas (La Visionnaire and L'Astrée) were nicely played by the two violinists of the ensemble.

These sonatas were later published again under different titles by Couperin in his collection Les Nations. For the concert with his ensemble Les Talens Lyriques [21] Christophe Rousset had chosen two complete Ordres from this collection: the 1e Ordre: La Françoise and the 4e Ordre: La Piémontaise. From the two other Ordres, the 2e Ordre: L'Espagnole and the 3e Ordre: L'Impériale only the opening sonatas were performed, without the following suites. In the performance the two violins, the two transverse flutes and the two oboes were used in turn which created a great amount of differentiation in instrumental colours. They were also cleverly connected to the character of the various movements. Right from the start the ensemble played at a high level. It doesn't make much sense to single out some movements - but the sarabande from La Piémontoise was particularly beautifully played on the two transverse flutes. This concert was certainly one of the best in this year's festival.

André Campra wasn't only a gifted composer of theatre music, he also wrote fine religious music, in particular before 1700 and after 1722. His best-known work is his Messe de requiem which dates from around 1722. This work, and his grand motet on the text of Psalm 126 (125), In convertendo, were performed by Les Pages & Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles and the Orchestre des Musiques Anciennes et à Venir, directed by Olivier Schneebeli [22]. The brochure of the festival claims that with its 20 children and 17 adults this choir is exactly the same as Louis XIV's Chapelle Royale. Can this claim be substantiated? According to New Grove in 1708 the Chapelle Royale consisted of 11 sopranos, 18 hautecontres, 23 tenors, 24 baritones and 14 basses. In addition the soprano section contained boys, falsettos and castratos - not boys and girls as this choir. The use of boys and girls results in a sound which is quite different from that of a mixed choir of adult singers. The accomplishments of the choir are admirable. Its members are fully equipped to sing solo parts, as the (unnamed) boys and girls showed in both works. In particular the duet of the two boys in the Requiem was very good. Robert Getchell (hautecontre) and Jean-François Novelli (tenor) also gave good performances of their solos. I was less pleased about the contribution of the bass Marc Labonnette, who forced himself and mostly sang too loud and too operatic.

Skip Sempé, one of the artists in residence closed the series of harpsichord recitals with a programme of music from three generations [23]. The oldest pieces were by Louis Marchand (1699) and Gaspard le Roux (1705). A step further goes François Couperin with his fourth book of 1730, and the latest composers were Antoine Forqueray (1747), Armand-Louis Couperin (1751) and Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (1759). The differences came clearly to the fore, also because Skip Sempé used two different harpsichords: the copy of a French instrument in Flemish style by an unknown maker and a copy of a Taskin of 1769. Interestingly he played the same pieces by Forqueray which Michael Borgstede also had performed a day earlier. Skip Sempé was clearly the more extraverted and theatrical - not necessarily better, but just different. There is room for various approaches to the same repertoire. The character pieces by Couperin were also given good performances, with strong contrasts, especially La Pantomime which ended the recital.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the Italian style disseminated over most of Europe. But the French style had its admirers as well. One of them was Georg Philipp Telemann: his Paris Quartets were known and admired in France. One of them was played at the opening of a concert by Musica ad Rhenum, with its director Jed Wentz (transverse flute), Igor Rouhadze (violin), Cassandra Luckhardt (viola da gamba), Job ter Haar (cello) and Michael Borgstede (harpsichord) [24]. The programme was entitled "Les contrefaiseurs", the imitators. Even the Italian Francesco Geminiani fell under the spell of the French style as his collection of Pièces de clavecin of 1743 shows, from which Michael Borgstede played a Prelude in d minor. It was followed by one of François Couperin's most famous harpsichord pieces, Le Rossignol-en-amour. The inclusion of this piece made sense as two chamber cantatas about love were performed. First it was Les femmes by André Campra, then the 'answer' of the Dutch composer Quirinius van Blankenburg, L'apologie des femmes, also an 'imitator' of the French style. They were sung and to some extent 'acted' by the baritone Maarten Koningsberger. His voice is probably not the ideal vehicle for baroque music, and it took some time to get used to his singing. But in general he did pretty well, in particular in the cantata by Van Blankenburg, and the content was certainly communicated to the audience convincingly. The concert ended as it started, with a quartet for the same scoring as Telemann's piece; this time the composer was Louis-Gabriel Guillemain. The performances by Musica ad Rhenum were excellent throughout, passionate and adventurous.

One of the weirdest composers of the 17th century in France is Guillaume Bouzignac [25]. His music doesn't sound like the music of any other composer. That is probably the result of him having never had any official post at a court or in a chapel or church. He seems to have been a completely isolated figure, and none of his music was ever published. (If one wants to know what his music is like, one should listen to a recording of some of his motets by Les Arts Florissants on Harmonia mundi). If one listens to his music without knowing the name of the composer one would never think it was written by a French composer of the early 17th century. Olivier Schneebeli had made a choice from his motets which were added by a Messe à sept parties which has come down to us anonymously but which seems to be almost certainly from Bouzignac's pen. Also performed were the Litanies de la Vierge by Bouzignac's contemporary Etienne Moulinié. Schneebeli conducted his own choir again, this time with instrumentalists who are connected to the same institution as the choir. One of the most remarkable motets by Bouzignac is the dialogue Ha! plange filia Jerusalem, in which the solo part was excellently sung by one of the girls from the choir. Hardly less unconventional is the short motet O mors, ero mors tua. The mass is a beautiful work and an interesting addition to the 17th-century repertoire. The solo parts were sung by members of the choir, among them two girls. The alternation between soli and tutti worked less well in the Litanies de la Vierge by Moulinié. This work is probably better suited to be sung by a smaller vocal ensemble rather than by soloists and choir. The soloists did well, although treble was a bit weak in the lower register. Another boy sang the solo part in Bouzignac's motet Ave Maria: a very beautiful and strong voice and an impeccable technique. This concert not only showed the qualities of the oeuvre of Bouzignac, but also the remarkable qualities of the choir. I hope to see them back some time in this festival.

After Campra's Le carnaval de Venise Sébastien d'Héron conducted the orchestra Les Nouveaux Caractères and the Ensemble vocal Mélisme(s) in extracts from Les surprise de l'amour [26], which Jean-Philippe Rameau has reworked several times. After the overture two acts were performed: La lyre enchantée and Actéon. It is not easy to perform a theatrical piece without staging, and Hervé Niquet and his colleagues were much more successful in that respect than D'Hérin and in particular his soloists. The story was not very easy to follow, the surtitles weren't very clear to see, and the fact that the programme book didn't mention the roles the soloists were singing didn't help either. But the main problem was that the soloists were just not good enough to carry the performance and to communicate the content of the opera to the audience. Stylistically their singing was debatable as well. In particular the soprano Caroline Mutel used far too much vibrato and the bass Jean-Sébastien Bou wasn't free from it either. The mezzo Karine Deshayes and the tenor Mathias Vidal made a better impression, but weren't totally convincing either. The night's main entertainment was the playing of the orchestra.

For me Saturday was the last day of the festival. I attended two concerts. In Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh the Ensemble Correspondances, directed by Sébastien Daucé [27], performed small-scale motets which come from one manuscript and most of which are assumed having been written for the Abbey of Montmartre. Many girls from prominent families received their education in the congregation of Montmartre, and that could well explain the scoring of the motets in which high voices dominate. The ensemble consisted of two sopranos, a mezzo and a bass, with two recorders, two violins, viola da gamba, basse de violon, theorbo, harpsichord and organ. The programme was split into four sections: the annunciation of Jesus' birth, Jesus' birth, Mary Magdalene and 'peace for Israel', referring to the last line of Psalm 128 (127), Beati omnes. In this section another psalm setting was performed, Super flumina Babylonis, on the text of Psalm 126 (125), by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. In addition to compositions by Charpentier we heard pieces by Lully, Antoine Boësset, Etienne Moulinié and Henry du Mont as well as an anonymous piece. The programme notes hailed the "perfect but nevertheless subtle expression" of this repertoire. I don't understand why "perfect" and "subtle" should be adversative. Anyway, it is certainly true that these motets are expressive, and that was brought out by the ensemble, but I wasn't really satisfied. The singers were just not quite top-notch and in regard to interpretation more could have been made of this repertoire. It has to be said, though, that the venue didn't help. A larger church had been much more appropriate for this kind of music.

The last concert I attended was something I had looked forward to. Jean Gilles is one of the best and most expressive composers of the French baroque. The main item on the programme was his Messe des morts [28], which was very popular in the 18th century and often used for the funeral of dignitaries. In modern times it has been recorded several times. It is one of the great masterpieces in musical history. It was performed by the chamber choir Les Éléments and the orchestra Les Passions, conducted by Jean-Marc Andrieu. It is music which sticks in one's memory, in particular the instrumental introduction and the tenor solo in the Introit. This solo part was given a moving performance by Howard Crook. Another important part is that of the bass, and it was again Alain Buet who sang. It was the best performance I had heard from him all week. No less impressive were the soprano Anne Magouët and the hautecontre Vincent Lièvre-Picard. Their voices blended nicely in the ensembles. The soloists sang just like this kind of music needs being sung: no operatic bellowing, no continuous vibrato, a clear delivery of the text. Choir and orchestra performed at the same high level. And in addition to the Requiem we heard two Leçons de Ténèbres for solo voices, choir and orchestra. These pieces were of the same level as the Requiem, showing one again the superb qualities of Jean Gilles. This concert was one of the best of this year's festival, the other being the performance of Les Arts Florissants.

Time to sum up. This year's festival was devoted to the French baroque which is not as neglected as the festival's director suggested. Nevertheless, there were some nice discoveries in regard to repertoire, and the demonstration of reconstructed instruments (see the opening concert) was very worthwhile. Also nice was the appearance of several little-known ensembles and soloists.
I noted with satisfaction that the Latin texts were always pronunciated the French way. I can hardly imagine some performers still sticking to the inappropriate Italian pronunciation. From this angle it is hard to understand why most performers seem not to bother to do the same with the French texts, which in almost every case were pronunciated in an unhistorical manner.
I missed the series of concerts devoted to Leçons de Ténèbres, which included some unknown masters. But apart from the fact that attending them would be just too much, considering the number of concerts I have been covering, all concerts included a piece by a contemporary composer at the request of the festival. For me that is reason enough to avoid them. I can't see any reason to mix early and contemporary music. These are two different worlds, and for me "never the twain shall meet".

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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