Out of the Shadows

Friday, 9 July 2021

An engaging journey: La Folia from Ensemble La Notte

La Folia - Rebel, Handel, Matteis, L'Estrange, Telemann, Purcell, Rameau, Vivaldi; Ensemble La Notte
La Folia
- Rebel, Handel, Matteis, L'Estrange, Telemann, Purcell, Rameau, Vivaldi; Ensemble La Notte

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 July 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The young period instrument ensemble takes us on a journey through chaos and the bizarre in Baroque music

For such a formal, structured world there is a remarkable amount of chaos and madness in the Baroque and early Classical eras from Purcell's mad songs to Haydn's evocation of chaos in The Creation. Ensemble La Notte's new disc, La Folia, promises to explore chaos, madness and the bizarre in Baroque music with pieces by Rebel, Handel, Matteis, L'Estrange, Telemann, Purcell, Rameau and Vivaldi.

The disc has been released to coincide with the anniversary of Telemann's death, but in fact the programme is very much a patchwork of composers, styles and genres. We begin in dramatic form with 'Le Chaos' from Rebel's ballet-suite Les Elemens, a dramatic and daring evocation of chaos in music. Though after the intial chords which include all eight notes of the scale, structure returns albeit in dramatic form. The music is very effectively reduced down to the forces of La Notte, recorders (Kate Allsop), violin (Maxim del Mar), bassoon (Mark Wilson), cello (Mary Walton), theorbo (Jonatan Bougt) and harpsichord (Callum Anderson). More Rebel comes next, from Les Caracteres de la Danse, which forms an elegant musical contrast to 'Le Chaos'.

This is followed by Handel's Trio Sonata in G minor from his Opus 2 collection which were originally issued in pirated form by John Walsh. I am not sure where the piece fits in the idea of chaos and madness, but with such an engaging and informed performance as this, who cares. With recorder and violin taking the lead with continuous support, the result is Baroque chamber music, moving between the highly affecting and the toe-tapping. And the lively and engaged performance demonstrates how short a step it really is from order to madness in Baroque music.

Nicola Matteis was a London-based Italian violinist and his Diverse bizzarie Sopr la Vecchia Sarabanda o pur Ciaccona was published in 1676. The result is a chaconne with an elegant violin melody, toe-tapping again, over the requisite ground bass, as things progress the violin part gets so elaborate, so full of divisions as to almost justify the phrase bizarre.

Nicholas L'Estrange's two contributions on the disc both date from 1624 and would have been used in one of the Stuart court's masques in London, event for which we have precious little musical documentation. These dances were part of the anti-masque and so would have been accompanied by 'bizarre' dancing and costumes. First comes 'The Furies' and then 'The Apes Dance at the Temple'. The first seems somewhat calm for furies, yet is full of curious turns and certainly some distance away from polite dancing, whilst the second is a highly characterful dance. Clearly these apes were agile creatures and the music nicely showcases Kate Allsop's recorder playing.

With Telemann's Trio Sonata in D minor we return to a more ordered life, but still one full of character from the vivid (and fast) opening movement to the limpid 'Adagio' with its lovely intertwining of violin and recorder to the perky 'Allegro' and the final crisply busy 'Presto'. In fact, you wonder why we couldn't have had a disc of trio sonatas, as Telemann's are clearly worth investigating.

We next have a pair of dancing savages, first the spritely green men from Act 3 of Purcell's The Fairy Queen and then 'Les Sauvages' from Rameau's Les Indes Galantes which is another of those terrific dances over a ground bass that Rameau does so well, here heard in an imaginative chamber version.

To finish there is real madness, Vivaldi's Trio Sonata in D minor 'La Folia' based on The Tune. Vivaldi's variations are highly influenced by Corelli's version though here Vivaldi has two melody instruments (violin and recorder on this disc). Imaginative and engaging, this feels like chamber music rather than two melody instruments showing off and the continuo instruments provide plenty of colour and movement.

Ensemble La Notte was founded in 2018 and is based on a core group of recorder, bassoon and keyboard, but often expanded with period strings as here. The line-up means that some of the music features the bassoon bass line rather more than might happen in other groups, which can only be a good thing. 

This is their second disc, and it proves an engaging journey through madness and chaos, but also order and form. The inclusion of the two larger-scale trio sonatas by Handel and Telemann gives the disc some structure, whilst the final trio sonata by Vivaldi enables them to include a large-scale work on their theme, though overall there is something of the feeling of making the music fit the programme. Just occasionally I wanted more, a little longer excerpt from the works, but the 60 minutes flies by with performances full of character and imagination.

Jean-Féry Rebel (1666 – 1747) arr. M.Wilson - ‘Le Chaos’, from Les Élémens & ‘Les Caractères de la Danse'
George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) - Trio Sonata Op.2 no.5 in g minor, HWV 390a
Nicola Matteis (c.1670 – c.1720) - ‘Diverse bizzarie Sopra la Vecchia Sarabanda ò pur Ciaccona’
Nicholas L’Estrange (1603 – 1655) - Collected antimasque music: ‘The Furies’ and ‘The Apes Dance at the Temple’
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 – 1767) - Trio Sonata in d minor, TWV 42:d10
Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695) - ‘Dance for the Green Men’ Act 3 from ‘The Fairy Queen’, Z 629
Jean Philippe Rameau (1683 – 1764) - ‘Les Sauvages’ from Les Indes Galantes
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) - Trio Sonata in d minor Op 1 no. 12 ‘La Folia’, RV 63
Ensemble La Notte (Kate Allsop, recorders, Maxim Del Mar, violin, Mark Wilson, bassoon, Mary Walton, cello, Jonatan Bougt, theorbo, Callum Anderson, harpsichord)
Recorded at the Church of St Francis of Assisi, Hemel Hempstead, Herts, 5-10 April 2021
1CD [60.47]
Available from Bandcamp.




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