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Concert reviews

"Languorous airs de cour"

Céline Scheen, sopranoa
Ricercar Consort
concert: Feb 19, 2013, Utrecht, Geertekerk

François COUPERIN (1668-1733): Concert Instrumental sous le Titre d'Apothéose composé à la mémoire immortelle de l'incomparable Monsieur de Lulli (La Paix du Parnasse, sonade en trio); Monsieur DUBUISSON (?-1710): O mort, affreuse morta; Michel LAMBERT (1610-1696): Ah! qui voudra désormais s'engagera; Ombre de mon amanta; Vos mépris chaque joura; Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Arbres, rochers, precipices affreuxa; Ballet de Flore (LWV 40): Ah! quelle cruautéa; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Suitte d'un Goût Etranger (allemande La Superbe; L'Arbabesque; La Rêveuse; Le Bedinage) Jean Fery REBEL (1666-1747): Tombeau de Mr de Lully; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Le berger fidèlea

François Fernandez, Sophie Gent, violin; Philippe Pierlot, viola da gamba; Eduardo Egüez, lute, theorbo; François Guerrier, harpsichord

Céline Scheen is one of the young bright stars in the early music scene. She works with prominent ensembles and appeared on several discs. In 2011 I reviewed an impressive recording with French airs de cour. I concluded that her voice is excellently suited to this repertoire. I therefore was curious to hear her live in Utrecht, where she gave a concert with the Belgian Ricercar Consort, directed by Philippe Pierlot.

Although this ensemble has a wide repertoire French baroque music is one of its specialties. That is understandable as Pierlot is a gambist by profession, and the music for his instrument by French composers around 1700 ranks among the best ever written. The programme started with La Paix du Parnasse, the sonade en trio which closes the Apothéose de Lulli. This work is programmatic in that it advocates the mixture of the French and the Italian style. The form of the trio sonata with two equal treble parts for violins refers to the latter, the titles of the movements - gravement, saillie (vivement), rondement, vivement - to the French tradition. The performance combined the features of the two styles as well: French elegance and Italian passion.

It was then Lully's own music which was performed. Céline Scheen came to the platform to sing two airs by Lully. He didn't contribute to the genre of the air de cour himself. The programme notes didn't give any information about the two vocal items Ms Scheen sang. Arbres, rochers is an air by a certain Monsieur Bastide, apparently arranged by Lully. Ah! quelle cruauté is a lament of Venus from Lully's Ballet de Flore. Ms Scheen immidiately confirmed my positive impressions based on her recordings. Her excellent diction, imaginative ornamentation and sensitivity towards the text also came to the fore in three airs de cour by Michel Lambert, Lully's father-in-law and the most famous composer of songs of the 17th century. Two of the pieces sung by Céline Scheen are quite famous: Ombre de mon amant and Vos mépris chaque jour. These airs and Ah! qui voudra désormais s'engager were given brilliant and exciting performances. In between Philippe Pierlot played some pieces from the Suitte dún Goût Etranger by Marin Marais. The beautiful L'Arabesque was given a virtuosic and swirling interpretation; it was followed by La Rêveuse, played with expressive refinement.

The second part was quite dramatic. It opened with a highly expressive air by a Monsieur Dubuisson, who was mainly known for his drinking songs. O mort, affreuse mort is quite different stuff: "O death, terrible death, how cruel you are". It is a lament on the death of a certain Philène, the "maker of the most beautiful melodies". Ms Scheen fully explored the expressive features of this song. It was appropriately followed by another lament, the Tombeau de Mr de Lully by Jean Fery Rebel, another advocate of the goûts réünis. That is expressed here by a sequence of sonata movements in the style of Corelli, dance movements and a récit for the viola da gamba which reflect French tradition. It is a little drama which was played with panache by the five members of the Ricercar Consort.

The concert ended with a cantata by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Le berger fidèle. It dates from 1728, five years before Rameau's debut as an opera composer. The composer stated that his cantatas prepared him for his operas, and that became crystal clear in this dramatic piece. It is about the shepherd Mirtil who is in grief about his beloved Amaryllis who is about to die and expresses the wish to die in her place. The strong emotions of the protagonist and the theatrical character of the cantata were not lost on the performers. It showed how far Rameau had removed from the delicacy and elegance of previous generations of composers in France. Céline Scheen demonstrated that she has considerable dramatic talent as well.

Obviously the cantata had an happy end, and with it this enthralling concert.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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