Saturday 7 December 2013

Les Apotheoses - Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques

Les Talens Lyriques
Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques returned to the Wigmore Hall on Friday 6 December for a concert which looked at the rivalry between the French and Italian musical styles in the late 17th and early 18th century. They performed Francois Couperin's Sonata from Premier Ordre: La Francoise from Les Nations, L'Apotheose de Corelli and the Apotheosis of Lully which concludes with the trio sonata La paix du Parnasse. Alongside these we had some of Lully's Trios pour le coucher du roi and Corelli's Trio Sonata in G op.2 No.12 'Ciaccona'.

Directed from the harpsichord by Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques consisted of Gilone Gaubert-Jacques and Gabriel Grosbard (violins), Jocelyn Daubigney and Stefanie Troffaes (flutes) Emmanuel Laporte and Jean-Marc Philippe (oboes), Catherin Pepin (bassoon), Laura-Monica Pustilnik (lute) and Francois Joubert-Caillet (viola da gamba). The music was all cast in trio sonata form, with the continuo selected from harpsichord, lute, viola da gamba and bassoon, with the upper two lines selected from the other instruments often in pairs and doubled in the larger scale sections. The result was to create a fascinating selection of textures and sounds.

Couperin's Sonata from Premier Ordre: La Francoise from Les Nations (1726) was originally passed off by Couperin as by an obscure Italian composer with the intention of uniting Italian and French music. In eight movements, alternately fast and slow, no part lasts too long in a series of elegant, richly textured sections. Beautifully poised with lovely crisp rhythms and some dazzling fingerwork from Joubert-Caillet on viola da gamba.

Lully's Trios pour le coucher du roi are more traditional and, dating from 1665, were regarded as old-fashioned by Italian composers. The trios were written for the ceremony of Le Coucher du Roi when Louis XIV had a ceremonial going to bed (even though he might go out privately later). We heard six of them, each beautifully realised with some varied instrumentation. Graceful and elegant with some lovely perky rhythms, the set finished with a rather affecting passacaglia.

The first half finished with Couperin's L'Apotheose de Corelli or Le Parnasse in which Couperin imagined Corelli being received on Parnassus and placed with the muses. In seven movements, each with a scene-setting sentence, Couperin created a Grande Sonade which is a tribute to Italian music. Again the movements were varied in feel and style, with some wonderful elegant moments and some delightfully perky dances (on oboes and bassoon). Before each movement Rousset read out Couperin's prefixing French sentence and the result created something rather charming and involving. The final movement was a rather crisp and correct fugue with a lovely swing to the rhythm.

After the interval we heard Corrello's chaconne which forms his Trio Sonata in G Op.2 no.12 written in 1685. Here performed with violins on the two upper lines, the group gave a lovely poised performance with a delightful feel of the different performers passing primacy between them.

The final work in the programme was Couperin's Concert instrumental sous le titre d'apotheose compose a la memoire immortelle de l'incomparable Monsiuer de Lully in which Couperin imagines Lully's shade being received on Parnassus with Corelli and the Italian muses unsure whether to welcome or reject him, Apollo persuades the two that music can achieve perfection by uniting styles, Lully and Corelli play each taking turns to accompany the other, the finale a Corellian trio sonata. Again, Rousset read the French super-scriptions before each movement. A gravely elegant work, not without an element of humour particularly when describing the rather careful welcome given Lully but the Italian muses.

The performances from Les Talens Lyriques were highly involving and beautifully controlled, some profoundly beautifully moments and lovely feel to the underlying rhythmic structure. This was playing which drew you in. There was some superb individual playing but what really impressed was the way that the group functioned as a chamber ensemble, really listening to each other and responding. This was baroque chamber music playing of a very high order.

An entire evening of trio sonatas does not immediately seem involving entertainment, but Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques ensured that we were entranced and entertained. The audience response was lively and enthusiastic and we were treated to two encores from Couperin's Les Nations, a Spanish passacaglia and an Austrian rondo.

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