Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert
‘A Telemann Year’
27-30 July 2017
The annual Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert festival is based in the communes of Ribérac and Verteillac in the northern part of the Dordogne region of south-western France. It was founded by Robert Nicolas Huet and Ton Koopman, the former a local resident and now President and Director of the organising committee, the latter the Artistic Director and an occasional import from The Netherlands, together with his musical friends and family. The festival was initially the one-day event that still gives the now festival its name – the Itineraire Baroque, a musical tour of some of the extraordinary Romanesque churches of the region. But it has now expanded to fill four days over the last weekend in July with a wide range of concerts of Baroque music.
The focus for this year’s festival (the 16th) was Georg Philip Telemann (on the 250th anniversary of his death), a composer now usually overlooked by Bach and Handel (both of whom he knew personally), but who in his time was held in equally high esteem. A self-taught musician, he started to study law in Leipzig, but quickly moved into the city’s musical world. After short spells in princely courts, he moved to Frankfurt and eventually Hamburg where he directed the music in all the city churches. He was the first choice for the Leipzig post that Bach, the third choice, eventually accepted in 1723. He left an enormous amount of music, demonstrating his musical talent and ability to absorb national styles into his own music, notably from France and Poland.
Thursday 27 July – Ouverture
The opening concert of the festival, along with several other events, was held in the fascinating Église Abbatiale de Cercles a former Abbey church with a fortress front (typical of the region), some remarkable Romanesque carvings and wonderfully wonky ceiling arches. A nine-strong Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, led by Ton Koopman, played four Telemann pieces alongside Purcell and two Bach pieces. The opening Bach Ouverture (the Orchestral Suite 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067) contrasted the delicate tones of Marion Moonen’s flute and the strings with some rather percussive accompaniment from the harpsichord. Telemann’s sense of humour is frequently evident in his music, none better than in his Canary Cantata (TWV 20:37 – not 20:40, as shown in the programme and website). Subtitled ”Cantata of Funeral Music for an Artistically Trained Canary-Bird Whose Demise Brought the Greatest Sorrow to His Master”, it seems that this was a real commission from a patron whose canary had been eaten by a cat, rather than Telemann just having fun. On this occasion, the fun interpretation was more evident, with the increasing despair of the singer building to a lovely lullaby and the concluding plea “You alley cat! Because you ate this little animal, my wish for you is death by stoning!“, to which Ton Koopman added several meows.
After a rather plodding interpretation of Purcell’s Chaconne in F (which made the delicacy of Purcell’s part writing difficult to appreciate), we returned to Telemann and his Burlesque de don Quichotte, the two-note dying fall motif of the Sighs of Love for Princess Aline section echoing similar passages in the Canary Cantata. The same motif also occurred in Bach’s cantata Non sa che sia dolora (BWV 209) after the opening Sinfonia, a flute concerto in all but name. Soprano Bettina Pahn was soloist in this and the Canary Cantata although my seat behind the musicians made it difficult to appreciate her, or the other soloists, who were all facing away from me. The layout was odd, with the orchestra on a platform at the crossing of church, with several rows of seats behind them in the chancel. I gather that in previous years they have been positioned in what appeared to be a far more sensible position at the altar end of the church, facing the entire audience.
Two more instrumental pieces by Telemann completed the programme, featuring Reine-Marie Verhagen as recorder soloist in the Sonata en trio (TWV 42:a4) and the concluding Concerto in E minor for recorder and flute (TWV 52:E1). The lovliest part of the latter was the section where the harpsichord continuo dropped out and we were left with the delightful sound of the recorder and flute accompanied by just two violins and a viola.
Friday 28 July Baroque en Cercles
We returned to the Église Abbatiale de Cercles (dedicated to St Cybard) the following day for three concerts alongside a specially convened food and produce market just outside the church (the Itinéraire Gourmand) and two lectures (under the heading of Café Baroque) on Telemann and the fortress churches of the Dordogne, of which St Cybard is a fine example, with its formidable fortified west end. The first (midday) concert was given by Collegium Musicum Den Haag, directed by harpsichordist Claudio Ribeiro, with their programme Divertimenti da Camara devoted to Telemann and Vivaldi. The sheer inventiveness of Telemann’s writing, and his ability to absorb the technical and musical aspects of each instrument, was very evident. I was impressed with their sense of rhetorical freedom, most noticeable in the two movements from Telemann’s Bassoon Sonata (TWV 41:f1) with its improvisatorily rhapsodic Triste movement, followed by a lively exchange between bassoon (Tomasz Wesolowski) and cello (Rebecca Rosen). Earlier, recorder player Inês d’Avena had partnered Wesolowski’s bassoon in the Largo from Vivaldi’s Concerto in G (RV105). I particularly liked the sensitive harpsichord continuo playing from Claudio Ribeiro. Péter Tábori and Sara DeCorso also contributed on oboe and violin.
The afternoon concert in the Église Abbatiale de Cercles was La Flûte d’Arlequin: Spectacle de musique et de danse baroque with recorder player Julien Martin playing the complete set of 12 Telemann Fantasias (originally intended for solo flute, but sounding very effective on the five different recorders) with Hubert Hazebroucq performing his own choreographed dance and mime interpretation of the pieces, based on the Commedia dell’arte character Harlequin and the very likely notion that the 12 Fantasias represent the 12 seasons. The 12 pieces slide up the scale from A to G, covering all but four of the possible major and minor keys, and using a wide range of compositional techniques. Julien Martin’s playing was very musical, with eloquent phrasing and spacious interpretations. I also liked his sonorously measured actor-like spoken introductions to each Fantasia, reinforcing the drame of the occasion. Meanwhile Hubert Hazebroucq adopted a range of costumes and personos as he explored the seasons: ice-skating in February, striking a martial pose for Mars, complete with sword and shield, followed by adopting a flirtatious female persona for April and the Queen of the May. He flitted away the flies and fell asleep in August before wrapping himself in furs in November and reverting to his female persona in December just as the results of the April flirtation became apparent as she cradled a baby.
The evening concert in Cercles was a musical journey From Venice to London during the 17th and 18th centuries given by the Netherlands-based Musica Poetica (there is a London-based group with the same name), directed from the harpsichord by Jörn Boysen. After the opening Suite in D minor by JCF Fischer, with its distinctly French Ouverture and stately concluding Passacaille, came two operatic arias and a Concerto Grosso (in G,Op. 6/1) by Handel. Both arias featured distinctive writing for the bassoon, here beautifully played by the very impressive Kim Stockx. In the emotionally wrought aria Scherza infida (from Ariodante), the bassoon starts with a few continuo flourishes, but the key moments come with long-held notes lurking beneath the gently muted strings – a tiny touch of musical magic that brings tears to my eyes, and so typifies Handel’s musical genius. In Venti Turbini (from Rinaldo) the bassoon takes over the virtuoso continuo bass role entirely, frequently playing in duet with the principal violin or vocal soloist. Equally impressive were the two main violinists, John Ma and Sara de Vries. The vocal soloist was countertenor Maarten Engeltjes, an exceptionally talented singer, who caught the different moods of the two arias brilliantly as well as giving us proper Baroque trills (rare amongst singers, who so often rely on vibrato) and well-judged cadenzas.. You can hear him singing Scherza infida here, albeit with a different orchestra. He also excelled in the concluding Nisi Dominus by Vivaldi (RV 608). An inspiring concert.
Saturday 29 July – L’Itinéraire
Saturday featured the day-long event that has been the focus of the festival since the start – L’ Itinéraire Baroque, a series of six concerts in little known venues in the region. One of the inspirations for the original festival was to draw attention to the historic village churches of the Périgord Vert, most of Romanesque origin, but often locked and inaccessible. The Itinéraire traditionally starts with a 9.45 organ recital by Ton Koopman in the abbey church of Cercles, playing one of his little one manual chamber organs. And what better way to shake off the last remnants of slumber than Koopman’s wild and dramatic opening flourish to Buxtehude’s Praeludium in G minor (BuxWV163). Written in the distinctively free Stylus Phantasticus, this performance was given added Phantasticus from Koopman’s own imagination. Buxtehude’s unusual chorale partita Auf meinen lieben Gott, a dance suite based on a chorale theme, followed before his lively Fugue in D, given a rather French cadential twist by Koopman. The highlight for me was the gentle Adagio from CPE Bach’s Organ Sonata in D (Wq 70/5) before the concluding two Bach pieces, a Canzona and lively Fugue. We were then divided into five groups and sent off in different directions for L’Itinéraire itself, a clockwise pilgrimage around five venues north of Cercles, each of which featured a 30 minutes recital. The players stayed where they were, repeating their concert five times, while the audience moved around the circle of four churches and one château.
My group started in what seemed to have originally been part of the ancient kitchens leading off the grand entrance courtyard of the splendid Château de Clauzuroux with an 11am lute recital given by Joachim Held (pictured, with onlooker). He played three contrasting Suites covering around 100 years of French-influenced lute repertoire, from Ennemond Gautier (known as des Vieux Gaultier, or the ‘Old’ Gautier) to Silvius Leopold Weiss. Gautier was lutenist to the French Court of Henry IV and his Medici Queen, and he travelled widely after Henry’s death, including to England. The central anonymous Suite came from a Polish manuscript, and included an harmonically fascinating Sarabande. With several movements in each Suite, there was ample opportunity to hear the wide variety of musical forms in the repertoire of 17th and 18th century lutenists. In the intimate space, this was an ideal acoustic for such intimate music, played with musical conviction and sensitivity.
The second stop on the circuit was the architecturally fascinating Église de Fontaine, colourfully enlivened with tinges of green vegetation spreading across the walls. Here we heard an impressive concert given by the four singers of the Quatuor vocal St Eriksolisterna (the Soloists of Saint Erik, Stockholm). Their very well-balanced programme Madrigale d’Amore was based on 3 and 4 voice madrigals by Luca Marenzio and Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi, written at a time when madrigal singing was moving from the amateur to the professional realm, and therefore required greater technical virtuosity. That virtuosity was very evident in the excellent singing of the St Eriksolisterna, demonstrating perfect intonation and diction, vibrato free voices (so essential in madrigal singing), and a compelling sense of interaction between themselves and with the audience. In music of this type, a lot depends on the quality of the upper and lower voices, and soprano Elin Skorup and bass Lars Johansson Brissman both excelled. This was a concert that cried out for having no applause until the end but, unfortunatly, somebody started to applaud loudly before even the first madrigal was finished, destroying the mood. Perhaps in response to this, their encore was a spellbinding performance of Purcell’s Hush no more .. be silent all from The Fairy Queen, a very late example of the madrigal style.
After the lunch break, the next stop on the circuit was the recently restored Église d’Argentine with some impressively colourful new stained glass windows adding splashes of colour to the white interior. Here we heard the ensemble La Gazette Musicale play string quintets by Luigi Boccherini. The programme title of Fandango only made sense when we realised that Boccherini’s piece of that name hadn’t been printed in the programme. The work listed was the Quintet in G minor (G.318), with its complex first cello part specifically written by Boccherini to play himself, often challenging the prominence of the first violin, who was otherwise very much in charge. This was difficult acoustic for them to perform in, particularly given the power of the music. They initially struggled with intonation, but soon settled down. The music also pushed the definition of Baroque a little too far, with Boccherini writing in a very different musical style. Their concluding Fandango was great fun, with the second cellist not only having more of the limelight, but also producing a pair of castanets.
The next concert was given in the Église Saint-Pardoux de Mareuil by Gerhard Gnann, playing a small continuo chamber organ in a programme of Organ music from 17th and 18th century Europe. Countries represented were Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Austria and Germany. Perhaps Brexit has arrived early in south-west France, because there was no music from England. The rather sparse fugal lines of the opening Ricercar del duodecimo tono by Antegnati was enlivened by some well-judged ornaments and beautifully articulated flourishes. Sweelinck’s well-known Mein junges Leben hat ein End was particularly well performed, as was Kerll’s jovial Cappriccio sopra “Il Cuccu”. The programme ended with Mozart’s Andante (KV 616), one of the three pieces that he wrote for a mechanical organ, consequently taking no account of the technical difficulties of being played by a human. This was excellent playing, clean, nicely articulated, accurate, and with a fine sense of pulse.
The last (5.30pm) concert of L’ Itinéraire Baroque was in the Église Saint Barthelemy de la Chapelle Montabourlet, another church with a fortified west tower, as well as the remnants of an entire additional floor added on top of the church nave during the Hundred Years War for defensive and protective purposes. The four musicians of Ensemble Arco Sonoro gave a programme entitled The Theatre of Music with Trio Sonatas by Hasse and Handel, two of Geminiani’s Scottish airs, and Purcell’s Ground in C minor for harpsichord. The title reflected not only the theatricality of the 18th century Trio Sonata genre, with its contrasting pair of solo instruments (here using violin and oboe), but also the English musical public’s yearning for published versions of operatic arias for performance at home. Despite this being their fifth 30 minute concert since 11 in the morning, their playing was fresh and inspirational, notably in the theatrical interplay between the two treble instrument soloists (Francesco Bergamini, violin, and Yongcheon Shin, oboe) and cellist George Ross, who had as big a role as the other two in what were deliberately called Trio Sonatas. Handel’s Sonata en Trio (HWV 390) was full of little musical ideas that he had reused from earlier compositions.
Sunday 30 July – Concert de Clôture
The final concert of the weekend festival was held in the Église de Saint-Astier, where the added defensive structure is far more evident than in Église Saint Barthelemy. For this concert, the full orchestral and choral forces of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchetra were assembled under the direction of their founder and director Ton Koopman. However, as at Cercles, there were issues with the placement of the musicians in the long narrow church. The stage was side-on towards the back of the nave, with the musicians facing directly into a small side chapel and all but a small number of the audience having to view them from the side. Although the sound of the choir was slightly focussed by them being underneath the organ gallery, the orchestra had no such acoustic assistance, and their sound wafted around the vaults, loosing clarity on the way. While those in the side chapel may have had problems with volume and integration of the rear choir and front orchestra, there were issues of balance and clarity for the rest of the audience, notably from the solo singers singing across the orchestra for most of their appearances. I gather that in earlier years the musicians have been placed at the opposite, altar, end where, apart from negotiating an unmovable altar and reading desk, there certainly seems to be enough room. But wherever they are placed in this acoustically tricky building, some sort of reflectors seem to me to be essential to focus the sound towards the audience, rather than up into the vaults.
Having got that off my chest, the actual performance was excellent. In a concert featuring two major works, one by Telemann and one by Bach, Ton Koopman sensibly resisted the temptation to finish with the Telemann, the musical inspiration for this festival. However talented a composer Telemann clearly was, he wasn’t Bach, and the contrast would have been too great – as it always is, regardless of who the other composers are. So we opened with Telemann and his dramatic Donnerode (TWV 6:3), one of those works composed to “sing the praises of an all-powerful God” after a major human tragedy – an aspect of religious belief that I have never really understood. In this case, the tragedy was the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 which killed around 50,000 people, destroyed most of Lisbon. It was felt in far-away Hamburg where the Donnerode was first performed in 1756 and, with an added second part (as performed here) in 1760. It is a powerful work, using three trumpets and a vivid timpani part, reflecting the thunder of God’s ‘making the wilderness to tremble’. It opens with an arousing orchestral introduction to the expansive choral sinfonia Wie ist dein Name so groß (How great is Thy name), which is repeated at the end of Part One and again at the end of Part Two (but not on this occasion). There follows a sequence of arias of increasing tension for each of the five soloists leading to a powerful duet for the two basses and two timpani. Part Two has four arias concluding, in this performance, with the gentle chorale Dein Nam’ ist zuchersüß Honig im Munde. The timpanist, Luuk Naghtegaal deserves a mention, as does bassoonist Wouter Verschuren.
Appropriately, given Ton Koopman’s lifetime of devotion to the music of Bach, the festival finished with one of Bach’s most powerful cantatas, Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott (BWV 80), also appropriate for this Luther anniversary year. I particularly liked the soprano soloist Cornelia Samuelis. With space on the stage created by the reduced forces, she was able to stand next to the oboes, a far better acoustic solution that the more distant position of the soloists in the Telemann. Countertenor Maarten Engeltges, tenor Tilman Lichdi, and bass Andteas Wolf also made very effective contributions, as did continuo organist Kathryn Cok, playing with commendable sensitivity. Ton Koopman’s direction was exemplary, balancing pace and comprehension in the tricky acoustic.
And so ended a delightful weekend of fine music, architecture, food, and countryside with fields full of sunflowers. The festival is run as a not-for-profit charity, aided by a sponsor circle who can take advantage of some very impressive tax benefits for French residents (66% of a gift can be deducted from your total tax bill). An enthusiastic and friendly group of young volunteers help out during the festival, some local, but many coming from The Netherlands and one, I believe, from Canada. This year’s festival was launched back in May with a Spring concert in Ribérac, based on the story of Don Quixote and featuring the local Jeune Chœur de Dordogne alongside the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra.
The trascript of an interview with Ton Koopman can be found here.
Photos: ABW. Additional photos below.