Arts & Culture »

View All Arts & Culture »

Comments Comments Print Print

Text Size A A

Apollo at Court: L’Academie Roi du Soleil performs

by Phillip Larrimore

September 5, 2013

Louis XIV thought of himself as Apollo, the Greco-Roman god of the sun, music, and measure, hence his nickname “The Sun King”—and hence the name also of L’Academie Roi du Soleil, a nifty new ensemble dedicated to the music of his era, the French Baroque. Unlike the full-fledged revivals of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, the music of the French Baroque has only found its footing over the last several decades, despite the previous advocacy of composers as dissimilar as Brahms, Debussy, and Richard Strauss. Filmmakers played their part in this, starting with Robert Bresson, who used the music of Lully (1632—1687) in Pickpocket (1959), and culminating in an unexpectedly popular film biography of one of the chief composers of the French Baroque, Marin Marais, in Tous les matins du monde (1991).

Mainly, however, ceremoniousness, codified forms of erotic dalliance, preciosity, politesse, and badinage, long subsumed in the 20th century, became attractive once again because of their very remoteness, much as reading Jane Austen has become a refuge in the time of the sound bite. To judge from the packed house at L’Academie’s recent concert at St. Peter’s, which happened on a hot, damp summer night in downtown Charlotte, there’s a thirst for this music.

It was worth the drippy trip. The instrumentalists, David Wilson (violin), Rebecca Troxler (flute), Barbara Krumdieck (baroque ‘cello), and Nicolas Haigh (harpsichord) played with style, and Margaret Carpenter (soprano) is a singing actress. All were willing to test the boundary between authenticity and risk.

Authenticity in the realm of early music consists in using the instruments of the period, with the musical forces used then, as well as the expressive devices of the period, to make a living thing. How this is done is the scene of scholarly warfare with frequent skirmishes among camps, but it is safe to say that the performance of early music has become less fastidious and more bravura as the principals of baroque improvisation have been uncovered, though this is where risks begin.

Risk, in this repertoire, centers on the use of ornamentation–how much to use and where to use it—and rhythmic flexibility. If the music is played as sparely and as squarely as it is written, it will sound stiff. Oppositely, excessively florid ornamentation, and too much dallying with “swing,” creates the danger that the arc of the music will be sunk.

The shorter works in the program–mainly by Lully–were crisp in the outer movements, and had a pleasing sense of languishment in the slow ones. But the real hurdles were to be found in the two dramatic works, “Ariane” by Philippe Courbois (1710-1728—he didn’t live long!) and “Le Sommeil d’Ulisse” by Elizabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729, whose name was longer than her reputation).

“Ariane” and “Le Sommeil” are both rarities, and in a genre—the dramatic solo cantata—that’s far from the thoroughfares of classical music. There are examples by Bach, Handel, and Alessandro Scarlatti, but these works are almost from a different gene-pool, one that is peculiarly French in its combination of the roles of storyteller and actor in one singer, who must alternately tell and play the part. They have more to do with the heroine’s monologues in the plays of Racine than with their German or Italian musical counterparts. A late ancestor might be the passionate final scene of Cheri read and recorded by Colette from her own novel, or Poulenc’s heartbreaking La Voix Humaine.

Margaret Carpenter really put both works across. Her performance was like listening to a fine actress from the Comedie Francais exploiting her plosive “p’s,” rolling “r’s” with venom, and making fine fretwork of her fricatives. Her intonation was secure, her coloratura agile and expressive. Her performance had something of the pleasure of seeing the varnish of centuries removed from a painting hither-to perceived as dull, which instead turns out to have bright colors and a breathing presence.

L’Academie Roi du Soleil is a young ensemble pulling itself together through trans-Atlantic and trans-continental separations. They recently completed a tour of North and South Carolina, and another is planned for next year. Luckily, three of the performers have roots here—Margaret Carpenter being the assistant director of Davidson College Presbyterian Church's musical programs, Rebecca Troxler living not too far away in Chapel Hill, and Barbara Krumdieck (who is a co-founder of the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra) recently assuming the directorship of St. Alban's Episcopal Church's musical programs. As St. Alban's and St. Peter's Episcopal in downtown Charlotte have decided to present concerts in association with each other—(hooray!)—the prospect of hearing L'Academie again at both venues is good.

What I might wish from their music-making is more of it—some solo Couperin or Rameau from Nicolas Haigh, the harpsichordist, or some Le Clair from David Wilson, who is obviously a man afire. Barbara Krumdieck and Rebecca Troxler, likewise, would be a pleasure to hear more of, so individual is their phrasing. The one item by Francois Couperin on the program suffered the effect of miscellaneousness among the movements, as one or another player showed their stuff, but this was not a fault of the playing but of the planning—this particular Couperin perhaps being better off played as a solo keyboard work—altogether a minor flaw. In truth, the main thing one wants to do hearing a group as good and as quixotic as this is to wish them boundless good luck.

Comments Comments Print Print

Tags: Phillip Larrimore, L'Academie Roi du Soleil, baroque, music, charlotte

blog comments powered by Disqus

View Our Brand New Artist Gallery

Click Here

About Town About Town »


Magazine ArchiveslEventslResources / LinkslSubmit

Back to Top Back to Top