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15.10.03

Concerts at Versailles (Part 2 of 2)

This is the conclusion of a report (see Part 1) on the October 11 opening concerts of the Automne Musical, a series of concerts organized by the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, in the Château de Versailles. The theme this year is Louis XIII musicien et les musiciens de Louis XIII.

François Lemoyne, Apotheosis of Hercules, 1733-36The second concert of the evening was given under the title of La Chambre du Roy [The King's Bedroom]. The Ensemble Doulce Mémoire, under the direction of Denis Raisin-Dadre, performed a program of airs de cour by Pierre Guédron (c. 1575-1620) and instrumental dance pieces by Michael Praetorius and others. This concert took place in another area of the Château, the newly renovated Salon d'Hercule (part of the King's Grand Apartment), added to the palace in 1710, where the large painting Christ at Supper with Simon by Veronese covers almost the entire back wall. (This work was a gift from the Republic of Venice to Louis XIV in 1664.) Later, just as in the Opéra royal, the ceiling was adorned with an exceedingly large painting, The Apotheosis of Hercules, by François Lemoyne, completed from 1733 to 1736 (image shown at left).

At the end of the chamber opposite the Veronese painting is an enormous sculpted fireplace. A platform was set up in front of it for the performers: 5 singers, 2 lutists, Denis Raisin-Dadre on the recorder, and four players on viola da gambe. Again, the program was slightly altered to allow the group to insert a performance of the air de cour composed by Louis XIII, "Tu crois ô beau Soleil" (see previous post). The overall effect of this concert was magnificent, combining voices of great beauty with skilled players and a thorough understanding of the multimetric (i.e., nonmetric) style of the period. In particular, Axelle Bernage on the dessus (soprano) part displayed absolute purity of tone that set her apart. However, the only singer who seemed to have moments of weakness was the haute-contre, Marc Pontus. One of the encores that was demanded by the appreciative audience was a charming Italian air, with a pleasing pastoral ritornello. Each time that the instruments sounded that idyllic tune, some of the singers made noises like sheep baa-ing, to the amusement of the spectators. I would have insisted on another encore or two, but the late hour drove me to find my way back to the station to catch the RER back to Paris.

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