Le coucher du soleil

Le coucher du soleil
A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste. Music of the French Baroque – 1
Instruments of Time and Truth, Edward Higginbottom, Robyn Allegra Parton
Kings Place, 25 November 2016

F Couperin: Sonate: La Pucelle, Première Leçon de Ténèbres, L’apothéose de Corelli;
Jacquet de La Guerre: Pièces de clavecin
Clérambault: Cantate Abraham
Leclair: Violin Sonata in C Major, Op 2/3
Mondonville: Pièces de clavecin avec voix ou violon: In decachordo psalterio, Regina terrae, Benefac Domine;
Rameau: Deuxième concert from Pièces de clavecin en Concert

The Kings Place year-long ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ series of concerts drew close to its end with a ‘A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste’, devoted to music of the French Baroque in a period where bon gout was the watchword. The concert by the Oxford based Instruments of Time and Truth, directed by Edward Higginbottom (an acknowledged expert on French music) looked at the increasing influence of Italian music after the rather musically insular period of the reign of the Sun King.

The concert opened and closed with François Couperin. His first trio sonata, La Pucelle (c1692), was written under an Italian pseudonym. His concluding L’apothéose de Corelli, was his more open attempt to show how the disparate Italian and French styles could, and should, be combined. The programme note quoted several comments from the time expressing the differences between the styles, including a reference to a lady of the Court of Louis XIV fainting with delight or terror at hearing an Italian inspired violinist playing his ‘rapid passages’. Louis XIV’s response to such Italian virtuosity was to invite a simple melody from a French violinist with the comments that ‘That is my taste’.

The intervening pieces came from Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, of Couperin’s generation, together with three composers from the following generation, Jean-Marie Leclair, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville. Most of the pieces reflected the influence of Corelli, the musical ‘elephant in the room’ throughout the concert. Included amongst these were solo harpsichord pieces, played by Edward Higginbottom, and Leclair’s Violin Sonata in C, performed by Bojan Cicic.

There were three vocal contributions, with soprano Robyn Allegra Parton singing Couperin’s exquisite Première Leçon de Ténèbres, with its elaborate settings of the incipits, Aleph, Beth and He, Clérambault’s Cantate: Abraham (1715), combining French style recitatives with Italian airs, and two of Mondonville’s Pièces de clavecin avec voix ou violon, here using the first option of accompaniment to the harpsichord. Published in 1748 they represented a period during which French music was beginning to get rather silly. My only slight quibble was that her unremitting rapid, albeit relatively shallow vibrato interfered with the delicacy of the ornaments.

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