Sunday, January 21, 2018

Voices of Music Visits Paris

Last night in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Voices of Music gave the San Francisco performance of the second of the three concerts planned for its eleventh season. The full title of the program was An Evening in Paris: Music by Couperin, Marais, Telemann & Balbastre. The music of the three French composers, François Couperin, Marin Marais, and Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, was framed by two quartets by Georg Philipp Telemann, the concluding quartet being one of his so-called “Paris” quartets, written during his eight months in Paris between the end of 1737 and the beginning of 1738.

Only six performers were involved in this program. Director Hanneke van Proosdij played only instruments from the recorder family of different sizes. She was joined by Carla Moore on violin and Elisabeth Reed on gamba. Continuo was provided by Director David Tayler on archlute, Derek Tam on harpsichord, and William Skeen, alternating between cello and gamba.

These reduced resources gave a sense of intimacy to the listening experience, even if the interior of St. Mark’s is not the most intimate space in town. One got the impression that all of the selections involved music to be played among friends for personal pleasure. If others happened upon the players and decided to stick around to listen, such an activity was taken as peripheral.

One thus encounters any number of settings in which the composer seems to appeal to the “social” qualities of making music. One of the Couperin selections was a duo for viols, whose performance by Reed and Skeen evoked images of players some 400 years earlier delighting in the rich sounds of parallel thirds and sixths that predominate the score. Similarly, one could empathize with the personal satisfaction that Tam seemed to exude in taking on Balbastre’s solo keyboard works. Then, of course, there were the skillful “sound effects” of Couperin’s depiction of a nightingale in love as realized by Proosdij playing the smallest of the instruments in her collection of recorders.

Couperin’s chirping nightingale in its solo keyboard version (from IMSLP, public domain)

While the prevailing social setting may have been one of eavesdropping, the sanctuary of St. Mark’s held an impressive number of eavesdroppers, most (if not all) of whom appeared to be more than satisfied to have confronted this intimate side of French music-making without ever seeming intrusive.

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