Saturday 22 July 2017

Clérambault, Couperin, Monteclair - Arcangelo at Wigmore Hall

Sophie Junker
Sophie Junker
Couperin, Clérambault, Monteclair; Arcangelo; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 21 2017
Star rating: 5.0

Early 18th century French chamber music and chamber cantatas performed with expressive style

The final concert of Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo's residency at Wigmore Hall (21 July 2017) explored early 18th century French chamber music with two of the suites from Francois Couperin's Les Nations and chamber cantatas by Louis-Nicholas Clérambault and Michel Pignolet de Monteclair. Violinists Sophie Gent and Coline Ormond (replacing Bojan Cicic who was ill), flautist Georgia Browne, viola da gamba Jonathan Manson, soprano Sophie Junker, with Jonathan Cohen on harpsichord performed Clérambault's Léandre et Héro, Couperin's L'Impériale and La Francoise, and Montéclair's La retour de la paix.

Clérambault's Léandre et Héro was published in 1713 in his second volume of cantatas, Canatates francoises Mellées de Simphonies and it was one of his most popular works. The author the text was Marie de Louvencourt, the mistress of Hilaire Rouillé du Coudray, one of the aristocrats whose enthusiasm for Italian music countered the court's rigid espousal of the French musical style.

The cantata is a sequence of arias and recitatives, though it has an opening trio-sonata-like prelude and adds brilliant instrumental writing to some of the movements. The instrumental introduction was elegant and slow with some extremely expressive suspensions. Sophie Junker sang with an extremely plangent and highly elegant sense of line. Her recitatives were fluent and expressive, with Clérambault sometimes adding a decorative violin line. The first aria was lively with a busy bass line, whilst the second, 'Air fort tendre' was powerful stuff indeed, and Clérambault brought in illustrative instrumental writing on the word 'Volez' (fly). This descriptive writing continued in the 'Tempête' movement with is fast passagework for the instruments (including the viola da gamba). We finished with a graceful 'Air' with a nicely perky sense of rhythm.

Couperin's L'Impériale, Troisiem Ordre from Les Nations (published in 1726) combines an opening trio sonata (in the Italian style) with a French suite of dances. The trio sonata alternated stately elegant movements with faster ones, including some lovely moments when the viola da gamba was freed from simply playing the bass line, and a lovely undulating flute melody. The dances, Allemande, two Courantes, Sarabande, Bourée, Gigue, Rondeau, Chaconne and Menuet, continued this sense of alternation of fast and slow. Though fast was rarely really fast, simply performed with greater vivacity and often great rhythmic elegance. Elegance was a key here, but this did not preclude expressiveness and the players vivid involvement and sheer joy of playing chamber music were key to the performance. The most extended dance movement was the striking Chaconne, but the piece finished with a delicately elegant Menuet.

After the interval we heard another suite from Les Nations, La Francoise, Premiere Ordre again starting with a trio sonata where a striking slow prelude led to the usual fast / slow alternation, the fast sections full of rhythmic accents, the slower ones elegant intertwining of lines. The dance movements here consisted of Allemande, two Courantes, Sarabande, Gigue, Chaconne ou Passacaille Gavotte and Menuet. Whilst the slower movements had the grave elegance that we might expect, some of the faster ones went with a real swing and the perky Gigue had the feel of a country dance about it. The longer Chaconne was elegantly flowing with Couperin exploring a great variety of textures. The performance incorporated Coline Ormond's breaking of a string and having to go off stage to replace it, but all done with barely an interruption to the flow of the music.

The concert finished with the second chamber cantata, Montéclair's La retour de la paix from Cantates à Voix Seule, et avec Simphonie which was published around 1709. Opening with a fast instrumental section, this led to vividly dramatic accompanied recitative, with the two violins interrupting the voice. The first aria, 'Tendrement' was plangently expressive, and just accompanied by harpsichord and viola da gamba, and was followed by a second dramatic recitative where again Montéclair's gave the instruments a significant role. The second air, 'Lent et détachée' was profoundly striking, with the détachée string accompaniment hinting at music like the cold scene from Purcell's King Arthur (and its Lullian inspirer), and combining with Junker's plangent soprano to create something special indeed. Further striking recitative passages led to the final 'Air des Trompettes' which was vivid and almost like a country dance at times.

This was a finely elegant evening of French chamber music highlighting the vivid interplay between performers and their stylish approach to music making.

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