Monday, March 18, 2013

A French Bouquet at the Felicja Blumental Music Center

The “Sounds & Words” Early Music Series hosted French recorder-player Pierre Boragno in “A French Bouquet” at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv, on March 7th 2013.  Artists performing together with Boragno were harpsichordist Jochewed Schwarz and viol player Tal Arbel. Under the direction of renowned artist and early music scholar Jochewed Schwarz, Sounds and Words, now in its eighth year, offers audiences an annual concert series of six concerts of music from the Renaissance, Baroque, to the early Classical period and music of later styles. Performing on period instruments, the series features mostly local Israeli artists.

Pierre Boragno (France) studied with Kees Boeke and Walter van Hauwe in Amsterdam. He plays with several prestigious European early music ensembles, founding the Alta Trio (high instruments) in 1989. He teaches at the Garches Conservatoire and at the Conservatoire National of the Versailles region, also joining the faculty of summer academies, such as those in Barrèges, Dinard and Arras. Boragno has translated and adapted Walter van Hauwe’s “Modern Recorder Technique”, writes for “Cahiers de musique médiévale” (Notebooks on Medieval Music) and is one of the compilers of “!0 ans avec…la flûte à bec” (10 Years with…The Recorder) (1998).

Jochewed Schwarz spoke of French Baroque music as being an integral part of social life of the time, meaning that it gravitated either towards dance or to the telling a story – verbal or otherwise. An authentic touch to the evening was that each group of pieces played opened with a Prélude from Jacques-Martin Hotteterre’s (1691-1728) “L’Art de Préluder” (The Art of Preluding) of 1719, Europe’s first flute manual; this is a rare document of pieces composed in 19 different keys, with information on the manner in which preludes and practice studies could be improvised, on meter, ornaments, transposition and modulation. These solo miniatures, worked from a melodic skeleton, served the player – in this case, Boragno - as a “warm-up”, allowing him to relate to the instrument’s timbre, to rhythms and his own mood. The key of each of the vastly different preludes Boragno performed was introduced by a chord or two on the harpsichord.

The evening’s program included a number of French Baroque sonatas and suites, beginning with the carefully paced, ornamented playing of  Anne-Danican Philidor’s (essentially French) Sonata in d minor “pour la flute à bec” (1712), unusual for its two fugues; it is the sole French sonata written specifically  for recorder. François Couperin (1668-1733), on the other hand gives few indications as to instrumentation. We heard no.5 of the five suites of “concerts” of his 1724 collection titled “Les Goûts réunis” (Tastes United), sonatas with continuo that create a sophisticated intertwining of French- and Italian styles. The artists’ reading of the work was personal (in particular, in the somewhat veiled Sarabande in which the recorder was joined by viol only), a variety of textures and ornaments making for fine royal entertainment, with the harpsichord producing interesting bell effects in the fourth movement (Muzette).  Hotteterre’s suites for flute and continuo, free of the showy Italian manner and intellectual exploits of Rameau, remain within the strict constraints of the severity and etiquette of Versailles and are based on ornamental practice as laid down in the composer’s own treatise and in the notation itself. The first movement of his 3rd Suite opus 2 (1715), an Allemande titled “La Cascade de St. Cloud”, takes its inspiration from a fountain no longer existent at a chateau outside of Paris. Boragno and his fellow artists find the right stylistic environment for Hotteterre’s suite, giving expression to its lilting, coquettish moments, attractive asymmetry, its outstanding and increasingly haunting “Le plaintif” (The Sad One), followed by carefree, hearty treatment of the final Gigue.  Boragno’s playing of Antoine Dornel’s (1685-1765) Suite no.1 opus II, 1711 displayed the composer’s imaginative and dynamic compositional style in dances that were elegant and flowing, graced with ornaments and with Dornel’s characteristic melodic resourcefulness. Composer, theorist and teacher Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737), one of the most eclectic composers of the generation preceding Rameau, was of the first musicians to introduce the “basse de violon” to the Paris Opera. A sadly neglected composer, his works show masterful melodic writing, fantasy and Baroque tenderness. Boragno’s reading of Pignolet’s 4th “concert” (1724) was rich in ideas, in flexibility and ornamenting, his lightness of touch in the second movement “La Joyeuse” (The Joyful One) contrasted with the melancholic third movement, the latter’s dejected, languishing mood enhanced with harpsichord spreads.

And to the works on the program based on songs: Boragno and Schwarz performed Bénigne de Bacilly’s (1625-1690) miniature “Puisque Phyllis est infidele” (When Phyllis is unfaithful) with charm and sincerity. Bacilly’s “Commentary upon the Art of Proper Singing” is surely the most important treatise on singing published in 17th century France. It focuses on the “airs de cour” (courtly melodies) and their performance in the 1660s, with ornamentation being of prime importance. Arbel and Boragno performed Hotteterre’s “Pourquoy, doux rossignol” (Why, Sweet Nightingale) from his 1721 “Airs et Brunettes”, a collection of 18 pieces;
‘Why, sweet nightingale,
Do you awaken me
In this dark room before dawn?
Have you come to announce the return
Of the charming object which I adore?
But should Clemene be still insensitive,
Then abandon my heart
To the fire which devours it’.  

Viola da gamba player Tal Arbel played three solos, representative of the genre, the first being a Prélude for viol by Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (late seventeenth century)- a piece of great delicacy, of ideas, gestures and dissonances. In Marin Marais’ Chaconne for solo viol, Arbel offered a rich variety of moods and textures in the individual variations – some pizzicato, others played arco, some more dancelike,  others languid, Arbel never losing sight either of the short bass line, on which all was based, or of the dance form itself. Arbel is developing a large expressive range, is most competent and shows mastery in presenting a work’s intricacies, twists and virtuosic passages. The last solo piece she played was a “Gavotte en Rondeau” by Sieur de Machy (late 17th century), a French viol player, composer and teacher, largely remembered today for his “Pièces de Violle en Musique et en Tablature” (1685), a volume that includes a detailed technical introduction of historical value, the eight surviving pieces of the collection being printed half in notation and half in tablature. Showing the composer’s chordal/melodic approach to the viol, Arbel’s slightly flexed reading of the piece was appealing and decidedly French in its dancelike character.

The concert presented the essence of French Baroque music in its true sense. Pierre Boragno, playing on recorders built by Ernst Meyer, chose to use instruments of different timbres to suit the various pieces and styles, thus placing the aesthetic of color in the foreground; the artists agreed on questions of tempo, gestures, detail, understatement and elegance. It was an evening of “bon goût”, with Boragno supported by finely nuanced and interesting continuo playing on the part of Schwarz and Arbel. Jochewed Schwarz’ concise explanations outlined important features of French Baroque music. To add a few more flowers and fragrances to the French Bouquet, it would have been nice to hear Schwarz perform some French solo harpsichord pieces.

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