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Jewels of the French baroque

Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St Paul’s Centre
02/06/2020 -  & February 7, 8, 9*, 2020
Jean-Féry Rebel: “Le Chaos” from Les Elémens
Antoine Forqueray: Le Carillon de PassyLa GirouetteLa Portugaise
Antoine Forqueray/Vittorio Ghielmi: Jupiter
Jean-Baptiste Lully: “Canarie” from Le Bourgeois gentilhomme
Jean-Philippe Rameau: “Bruit de tonnerre” from Hippolyte et Aricie – “Air tendre pour les Muses” & “Le Ramage d’oiseaux” from Le Temple de la Gloire – “Contredanse en rondeau” & “Entrée de Polymnie” from Les Boréades – “Danse des sauvages” from Les Indes galantes – “Air tendre” from Les Fêtes d’Hébé
Marin Marais: “Marche pour les Matelots”, “Airs pour les Matelots”, “Tempête” & “Ritournelle” from AlcyoneLa BiscayenneSarabande “La Désolée”La RêveuseLe BadinageL’Arabesque

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Vittorio Ghielmi (viola da gamba, conductor)

V. Ghielmi (© Dahlia Katz)

Here was an absorbing program with 22 musical numbers from the French baroque era displaying a wide range of contrasts under guest director and viola da gamba soloist Vittorio Ghielmi.

“Dreaming Jupiter” was the program’s title, which references the titles of pieces by two noted viola da gamba specialists of the era: Marin Marais, whose works tended to be ruminative if not downright sombre (and who gained the sobriquet “l’ange”), and Antoine Forqueray, whose livelier works earned him the nickname “le diable”. Marais composed La Rêveuse (“The Dreamer”) and Forqueray wrote one titled Jupiter.

The program alternated between orchestral works and solo viol pieces (which themselves usually had discreet accompaniment by lute and/or harpsichord).

The opening work was was Jean-Féry Rebel’s “Le Chaos” (“Chaos”) from his orchestral suite Les Elémens. Ghielmi began with an analysis of the various parts of the orchestra and how they would be representing the elements: fire, earth, water, and air/light. The piece itself begins with a grinding atonality and over its brief course harmony has to struggle its way out of this chaos. It seems to foreshadow the beginning of Haydn’s Creation composed some 50 years after Rebel’s death. This vivid little piece thus represented the type of work the program was devoted to, the “pièces de caractère”, or what is now referred to as program music.

There were nine pieces by Marin Marais, whose the solo works tended to be solemn, notably his Sarabande “La Désolée” (“The Disconsolate”), while his orchestral pieces, some from his opera Alcyone, provided a lively contrast. His solo “Le Badinage” seemed to be a poker-faced joke with the viol having a rambling, inconclusive conversation with itself.

Such a mixed program would have to include works by the two most outstanding composers of the era, Lully and Rameau. Lully’s one work was the bouncy “Canarie” from Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, while Rameau was represented by six works, arguably the most vivid on the program, such as the thunderstorm from Hippolyte et Aricie, the stately entrance of the muse Polyhymnia from Les Boréades, and the Savages’ Dance from Les Indes galantes.

This season Tafelmusik has embarked on a project, “the meeting of old and new”, to enlarge their repertoire, and have commissioned a new work for most of their programs. This time Vittorio Ghielmi was commissioned and he composed his own Jupiter, inspired by Forqueray. Ghielmi describes it as a “re-composition”. It begins with a subliminal drone with some gently plucked strings, then swells into a broad, swaying melody that includes his own instrument, resulting in a viola da gamba concerto. Echoing the storm music heard earlier by Rameau and Marais, it ends with a bit of Jovian thunder.

There have been some changes in the makeup of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra recently as some members who have been with the orchestra (founded in 1979) since its early years have retired. It is gratifying to note that throughout this concert the orchestra, this time with 23 performers, played with its usual precision and sparkle.

Michael Johnson



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