Robert Barto
Detail from Titian's 'Diana and Actaeon'

Early Music Vancouver Festival 2013

2014 Vancouver Early Music Festival
The Hand of Time: Concert 3 - Rameau Cantatas and "Pièces de Clavecin"

Featured Performers Ellen Hargis, soprano; Sylvia Szadovszki, mezzo-soprano; Marc Destrubé, violin; Natalie Mackie, viola da gamba and Christopher Bagan, harpsichord

Date and Venue 27 July, 2014, 8pm | Roy Barnett Hall, UBC

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

The third concert in the 2014 Vancouver Early Music Festival presented three elegant works by the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau plus one other by his contemporary Joseph Bodin de Boismortier.  Two purely instrumental sets alternated with two vocal ‘Cantatas,’ short, vivid scenes narrated and dramatized by a single singer, adding up to a glimpse of 17th century courtly entertainment.

The instrumental works comprised the Deuxième and Cinquième Concerts from the famous “Pièces de Clavecin”  ‘Concert’ here means something like ‘ensemble piece’ and the harpsichord has moved from its former basso continuo role into centre stage at the core of the group.  These are pieces displaying an array of colour, character, texture and virtuosity.  Both the Concerts played have three movements, fast - slow- fast, with the "Deuxième Concert" closing with two Minuets.  Otherwise the movements are portraits of a type as in the restless ‘L’agaçante, ’ (the obnoxious Pest) or they are titled after people Rameau and presumably his audience knew such as the swinging ‘La Forqueray’ which refers  to a well-known viol-player at the court and increases the air of intimacy.

The three players, Christopher Bagan (harpsichord), Natalie Mackie (viola da gamba) and Marc Destrubé (violin) passed the leading motifs and swapped the accompaniment  amongst themselves with admirable rapport. Marc Destrubé’s rich and strong violin was matched by Christopher Bagan’s harpsichord in clear, sophisticated, witty playing.  The viola da gamba part is no less virtuostic and Natalie Mackie no less accomplished than the others.  She played her part with passion and flair.  It was a pleasure to hear this group having such fun and enjoyment playing this dazzling music together.

Ellen Hargis is a familiar figure at the Early Music Summer Festival who can be relied on to add understated drama to all she does.  In" Orphée," Rameau’s musical recounting of Orpheus’ fatal turn towards Eurydice suits her well.  In the curious 17th century take on the Greek myth, this is a mis-en-scene full of happy cupids, passionate love, and desperate appeals to Amour all polished off with a cool, moralistic envoi advising lovers to pick their moment.  Ornamentation, line, intensity, all were subtly varied and precisely chosen.

Finally, it was a delight to hear Sylvia Szadovszki's fiery and eloquent rendition of "Diane et Actaéon" by Boismortier. A pupil of Hargis for the past week, she demonstrated that she has learned well.

© 2014 Elizabeth Paterson