Salish Sea Early Music Festival: A Little Evening Concert for Louis XIV

Dates and Venue Friday, January 13, 2017 at 7.30 pm | Ryerson United Church, Vancouver

Jeffrey Cohan baroque flute Courtney Kuroda baroque violin Stephen Creswell baroque viola Anna Marsh baroque bassoon

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

“What would Louis XIV like to listen to of a quiet evening at home?” Composer, copyist, arranger and Garde de la Bibliothèque de la Musique du Roi (Keeper of the King's Music Library) André Danican Philidor the elder may have asked himself this as his king approached his mid-70’s. By the early 1700’s, Louis’s list of favourites was long and included many genres, ballet, opera, theatre music, music for balls as well as purely instrumental works. Philidor set out to make some selections and to arrange them into suites for 4 or possibly 5 instruments. These are not dance suites in the conventional sense but a series of tonally linked pieces from various sources, sometimes with a trio inserted into the set. Most of the compositions are by Lully, though there is at least one Trio de M. Charpentier. Written out into part books, there are some 67 symphonies included in Suite des Symphonies Pour les petits Concerts qui se font les soirs devant Sa Majesté (Suite of Symphonies for His Majesty's little evening Concerts).

Jeffrey Cohan has delved into dusty archives to retrieve this little known manuscript and pulled out some plums. Free to choose his instrumentation (none is given in the ms.), he opted for flute, violin, viola and bassoon, all baroque of course, and tuned to the low 18th century French pitch. This gave a warm resonance to the music, although the balance between the instruments was more extreme than we are used to in chamber music nowadays. The high to low ratio was intriguing to the ear, but the flute and violin were often difficult to hear against the robust viola and the richly sonorous bassoon.

Six suites comprised the program. Four opened with an Overture from one of Lully’s ballets or operas followed by widely varied selections drawn from other ballets and operas, even in one case a Ritournelle based on the sacred motet 'Benedictus', which appears between selections from the ballet Flore and is immediately followed by the music Louis had danced to in his youth as Apollo the Sun god. In the 21st Suite, a charming Gavotte pour le Roy sits between the weightier Symphonie d’Orphee and the more complex Chaconne des Arlequins. Musically however, the logic was more consistent. A strong opening invited the listener into varied but not divergent pieces always closing with a muted fade out.

Like the music chosen, the playing was pleasing, not showy, with understated ornaments and subtle phrasing. Anna Marsh played with a vigour matching her bold instrument. Stephen Creswell appeared utterly captivated by the music. Courtney Kuroda’s playing was calm, steady and unobtrusively elegant. Jeffrey Cohan presented a dynamic contrast between beautiful, refined interpretation and enthusiastic performance. Together they created a sophisticated evening of 18th century elegance and intimate charm.

© 2017 Elizabeth Paterson