IN: Reviews

Consorting With Dandrieu

by

It begins in routine fashion, with violin lines rising, coiling around each other, then coming to rest on icy dissonances. But this passage from a trio sonata by Jean-François Dandrieu involves more than an ordinary outing for Le Consort. The young musicians of this celebrated French ensemble have made the music of this nearly forgotten Baroque composer the focus of numerous performances and recordings ever since they began playing together in 2016. And even when they venture into music by Vivaldi, Reali, Corelli, and Bach—as they did in their local debut via the Boston Early Music Festival on Friday night—Dandrieu remains an emblem of their unique vision of the trio sonata genre. Such music, their performance at the First Congregational Church in Cambridge suggested, offers as much exuberance as intimacy.

Billed as “A Journey Through Baroque Europe,” Le Consort’s program delivered a bracing combination of virtuosity and lyrical splendor through a sparkling ensemble blend. Violinists Sophie de Bardonnèche and Augusta McKay Lodge (the latter substituting during Théotime Langlois de Swarte’s brief paternity leave from the group) wove phrases together in colorful complement, like mixing red and silver. Cellist Hanna Salzenstein and harpsichordist Justin Taylor supplied a robust continuo that was felt as much as heard.

But even with that bold approach, the movements of Dandrieu’s Trio Sonata in G Minor, Op. 1, No. 3 shimmered like fine silk. The Grave and Adagio lingered affectingly, their harmonies seeming to glow at a distance. The musicians dug in furiously for the Allegro and concluding Giga, where the playfulness even carried into the silence that followed its sudden concluding flourishes.

By contrast, a Grave from Giovanni Battista Reali’s Violin Sonata, Op. 2, No. 1 delivered ever-sweetening melody, sensitively played by De Bardonnèche and Lodge. Even a few passages of Reali’s otherwise brazen La Folia, Op. 1, No. 12 took on the lyrical turns of an operatic aria. But Le Consort’s roar invigorated just as much as its whisper, and the quick variations of this familiar harmonic progression coursed with live-wire intensity.

Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Gavotte et ses doubles turned the spotlight onto harpsichordist Taylor, who dispatched each variation with a mix of improvisatory freedom and almost hard-rock zest. But his keyboard touch was gentle without losing focus, and the climactic points of this music felt as natural as friendly banter—pointed where appropriate without resorting to force.

The musicians created the same effect with Arcangelo Corelli’s Trio Sonata in C Major, Op. 4, No. 1. To be sure, the austerity and introspection often associated with this composer’s music came off with the right amount of weight. But Le Consort tore through the quick movements with unexpected fire and delicacy.

Purcell’s Sonata VI in Four Parts in G Minor traversed an even wider range of emotions. The musicians built its tensions steadily, the music all the while teeming with restive angst. The opening ground sounded urgent even in the faintest gestures; the ensuing variations each burned like a fire slowly growing out of control. The musicians’ inclination to keep to a strict tempo meant that changes in harmony resounded with outright force. They approached Nicola Matteis’s brief Sarabanda Amorosa, which preceded the Purcell, by doing the opposite. There, generous rubatos enabled the lines to flow with ease, at once tender and song-like.

Sonatas by J.S. Bach and Vivaldi bookended the program with surprising levity. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major generated as much solace as vigor. His Andante, a transcription of a piece by Alessandro Marcello, answered by tipping into the sublime.

Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in G Minor, Op. No. 1 danced in all the right places. The slow movements established a soft framework out from which the Allemande and Gavotta could lilt and galop. The latter’s pizzicatos, in particular, bounded gracefully. The “Folia” from Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in D Minor, Op. 1, No. 1 also witnessed Le Consort tossing off phrases with seismic zeal. After the rapturous applause, they reprised the Gavotta as an encore. Here and throughout the evening, the musicians revealed any and all musical spectacles. But they had a world of fun just in playing. And the joy they delivered made the music sound fresh and exciting, no matter how familiar.

Aaron Keebaugh’s work has been featured in The Musical Times, Corymbus, The Classical Review, Early Music America, BBC Radio 3, and the Arts Fuse, for which he writes regularly about classical music. A musicologist, Aaron teaches at North Shore Community College in Danvers and Lynn.

1 Comment »

1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Great review. We in the audience were in awe. (Full disclosure: I am on the board of BEMF). But my admiration for this group stands…

    Comment by Bettina Norton — February 26, 2024 at 9:30 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, this comment forum is now closed.