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"L'Harmonie du Monde" -- Music from the Time of Leonardo da Vinci, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire (2004)
Doulce Mémoire, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire (2005)
Du Caurroy: Les Meslanges, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire (2006)
Denis Raisin Dadre, who directs Ensemble Doulce Mémoire, is a recorder player and has focused his group around music arranged for wind instruments. He and three colleagues processed onto the stage holding shawms -- the reedy predecessor of the oboe -- of various sizes. There was a large table at one side of the auditorium's small stage that held the rest of their arsenal, a matched set of recorders and a matched set of dulcians, the buzzy ancestor of the bassoon. Now, as anyone familiar with Hieronymous Bosch's triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1505) knows, Renaissance wind instruments have a special place among the instruments of torture in hell. Such an association is certainly valid, given the sound these instruments have sometimes been recorded making. In the hands of Ensemble Doulce Mémoire, however, even the otherwise unruly dulcian and shawm sound quite beautiful. They were given light and pulsating accompaniment in this concert by Pascale Boquet (lute and Renaissance guitar) and Bruno Caillat (percussion).
The first half of the program was primarily French music, combining dance pieces by Michael Praetorius (plus one piece in the Pierre Attaignant collection) with airs, in the French multimetric style of the turn of the 17th century, by Pierre Guédron and a couple of other composers. In the second half, they turned to Italian music of roughly the same period, to symbolize the marriage of Henri IV, King of France, to Maria de' Medici. This is also the theme of the group's 2005 self-titled CD, and several of the pieces in this concert are recorded there. The instrumental pieces were all rhythmically vivid, skillfully ornamented, toe-tapping fun. Instead of the five singers I heard in Versailles, the vocal parts in this concert were performed by soprano Véronique Bourin. (The wind players did join in on the refrain of the anonymous Trop penser me fait amour, even in parts at times.) In the first couple airs, Bourin's voice was slightly shaky, especially at the top of her range, but as she gained confidence, a clear, pretty, although light sound emerged that was well suited to this repertory.
The function of this music was to divert noble ears, and the dance that was its expected counterpart here was presented by two members of a group from Florence that takes its name from Fabritio Caroso's treatise on Renaissance dance, Il Ballarino (1581). The musicians played a diverse selection of dance types, and it was beautiful to see dance steps based on Italian Renaissance choreographies that went with that music. (The experience of hearing this style of music without the accompanying movement can draw attention to the music's simplicity and leave you unsatisfied, as I discovered at another concert in Versailles. This is the difference with later Baroque dance music like Bach's: the pulse of the dance is still there, but the interest of the music is much greater.) The airs are everything expected of court music: light, sometimes scurrilous poetry -- not to say doggerel, but arcadian in subject -- matched perfectly to delicate and eminently singable melodies. (Here are a few sound files: have a listen.) Particularly fine examples included Guédron's A la fin ce berger (where Bourin really started to sound good) and the final piece of the program, Giovanni Gastoldi's L'Innamorato.
Jeffrey Gantz, Measure for measure (Boston Phoenix, April 26)