Dancing with the Sun King

Dancing with the Sun King
Michel Pignolet de Monteclair & Jean-Fery Rebel
Ensemble Odyssee
Pan Classics PC10410. 62’20

Dancing with the Sun King | Pan Classics PC10410

Michel Pignolet de Monteclair: Serenade ou Concert divisee en 3 suites
Jean-Fery Rebel: Boutade, Caprice, Les Caracteres de la Danse

For a demonstration of just how colourful French Baroque orchestral music can be, this recording by Ensemble Odyssee of music from the time of Louis XIV can’t be beaten. The bulk of the recording is devoted to the 1697 Serenade ou Concert divisee en 3 suites by Michel Pignolet de Monteclair, one of the lesser-known composers of the period. Separating the three Suites are individual pieces by Monteclair’s contemporary, Jean-Fery Rebel (Boutade Caprice) and the concluding 1715 Les Caracteres De La Danse.

Dance was fundamental to the Court of Louis XIV. An accomplished dancer himself, he instituted an almost ritualised form of court dance, with frequent ceremonial balls for his courtiers, a fashion that soon spread to the aristocracy of France. Monteclair’s three Suites provide the music for a complete ball, with a range of contrasting dance movements each, unusually, specifically scored for a wide range of instruments, rather than being for any choice of instruments. Alongside the usual strings, he included recorders, oboes, bassoon and the distinctively reedy sound of the musette – a small bagpipe, here played by Antonio Conctenio Martinez

The three Suites reflect different moods and orchestral colours, as suggested by their respective titles – Airs Champestres / Airs Tendres / Airs de Fanfares.  The first Suite is in a Pastoral mode, with the musette prominent in many of the eight dance movements. They include movements such as a Marche Des Bergers, Pantalonade En Rondeau, Chalumeaux Rondeau and Danse De Village. A bassoon is used as the principal bass instrument throughout, here beautifully played by Inga Maria Klaucke.

Rebel’s 1711 Caprice follows in a similar mood, the gentle Gravement opening string section segueing into a lively dance-like Vivement movement. The Airs Tendres Suite opens and closes with movements called Sommeil, each featuring the delightful and so very French sound of two recorders (sensitively played by Anna Stegmann and Georg Fritz) over a cello bass and harpsichord continuo and occasional support from the violins. The five intervening pieces are symmetrically arranged, with two Sarabandes surrounding a faster central Gavotte. Here the bass line is taken by Agnieszka Oszanca, basse de violin.

Rebel’s 1712 Boutade, like the Caprice, was composed for a specific female dancer at the Paris Opera, Françoise Prèvost, as was the concluding Les Caracteres De La Danse. It uses the strings of the small orchestra, with some lively playing from Eva Saladin and David Alonso Molina. The third Suite follows the opening Ouverture with six further dance movements with titles such as Trompettes, Passe-pieds and Rigaudons using all the instruments of the 13-strong band. Andrea Friggi provides sensitive harpsichord continuo throughout. 

The final Rebel piece is his well-known Les Caracteres De La Danse, written for the dancer Françoise Prèvost. In the space of just eight minutes, it manages to cram in 12 different segued dances, enclosed by an opening Prelude and Sonata  – a courante, menuet, bourrée, chaconne, sarabande, gigue, rigaudon, passepied, gavotte, sonata, loure and musette. The oboes of Georg Fritz and Rodrigo López Poz are prominent in this Suite.

They perform at the pitch used at Versailles, a=405, rather than the lower a=392 of the Paris Opera. This required them to have some instruments and bows specially made (the oboes made by Georg Fritz) and others borrowed – the recorders from Southampton University, and the basse de violin from Nationaal Muziekinstrumenten Fonds, the Dutch musical instrument foundation.

Ensemble Odyssee plays with sophistication and elegance, as befits the notion of bon gout that underlies all French music of this period. Such is the international nature of music performance and performers, with most players learning their craft in several different countries, that it is no longer the case that a group notionally based in one country will be experts at the music of that country. So here we have a thoroughly international group, based in Amsterdam, giving a stylistically appropriate account of music from Paris.