“The Lure of Paris” program, ostensibly centered on France and French-inspired music, was presented by period-instrument ensemble Les Bostonade, founded in 2005 by harpsichordist Akiko Sato, a devotee of French music. The concise, invigorating performance on Friday night at First Church in Boston highlighted composers from several cultures.
Grafting the ritornellos and solos of the Italian concerto onto a French dance suite, Telemann’s Suite in A Minor (TWV 55:A3) featured recorder soloist Hèloise Degrugillier. Her expressive tone and incisive sense of rhythm enlivened Telemann’s novel formal ideas, such as the fleet double-time section of the “Air à l’Italien” and the daredevil scalar ascents barging in on an otherwise restrained “Menuet.” The Réjouissance highlighted Degrugillier’s clean divisions and unshakeable sense of line (amidst Telemann’s breath-defying passages), and the Polonaise closed the piece with her wrapping silvery ribbons over the violins, before tossing out spiky, immaculately executed octaves. Aside from a slightly lagging tempo in the final movement, the leader’s direction from behind the harpsichord and the eight strings of the ensemble provided solid accompaniment and a smooth balance that never swamped the soloist.
Jean-Marie Leclair promoted the Italian three-movement, fast/slow/fast concerto form in France while incorporating his native country’s aesthetic. His Violin Concerto in A Major (op. 7, No. 6) opened with a cocky, strutting Allegro from the orchestra and violinist Sarah Darling’s teasing runs. Despite a tendency to occasionally lean into some phrases a bit brusquely, her dynamic nuances and playfully singing upper register illustrated two violinists conversing across the pages of a score.
The decision to place theorbo player Esteban La Rotta stage front alongside the soloist seemed unusual at first, but his glistening plucks next to Darling’s double-stops in the central Aria Grazioso made for an invitingly rustic scene, with the orchestra nearly stealing the show during their warm, textured tutti. Relaxed fiddling segued into an upbeat country-dance for the closing Allegro, with Darling skipping along, digging into descending arpeggios and returning to the well-articulated upper register of the first movement. Leclair’s promenading concerto owed as much to Italian virtuosity and lyricism as France’s distinct blend of pomp and refinement.
While Vivaldi stuck to his home of Italy as well as his own very personal style for most of his life, closing the program with one of his works illustrated the Venetian composer’s influence throughout Europe. His “Paris” Concerto for Strings (RV 121) was presented as a gift to a French nobleman, and its typically Vivaldian drive and harmony were echoed in the preceding works. Les Bostonades mostly let the music speak for itself, adding subtle but telling terraced dynamics to the infectiously chugging theme of first movement Allegro. The use of one player per part for the Adagio’s sheets of harmony allowed La Rotta’s theorbo to chime through, turning what looked like orchestral misbalance into a unique aural effect. Following the tightly played, sprightly-articulated Allegro that closed the program, a small child offered precise critical analysis: “That was fun!”
Rameau’s “Entrée des Sauvages” (Entrance of the Savages) from his opéra-ballet Les Indes Galantes, with its faux-earthy harmonies, bumping and grinding theme and shaking tambourine made for an energetic encore as well as a revealing example of musical stereotyping. The Baroque era can seem like a round robin of German, French, Italian, and English styles, yet Les Bostonades reminded their audience that musicians create music, not countries.