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Ensemble Doulce Mémoire, La Maison Française

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"L'Harmonie du Monde" -- Music from the Time of Leonardo da Vinci, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire

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Doulce Mémoire, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire

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Du Caurroy: Les Meslanges, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire
I first heard the French early music group Ensemble Doulce Mémoire when they did a live radio broadcast for Cordes Sensibles -- a show that is no longer on the air -- on France Musiques in 2003 and played a concert in the extraordinarily beautiful Salon d'Hercule of the Château de Versailles. I could have heard them -- but did not -- when they gave their first concert at the embassy of France in Washington, La Maison Française, in 2001. It was shortly after Roland Celette arrived here to take up the post of cultural attaché, as he told us with obvious affection in his introductory remarks. The group was back in Washington on Monday evening, with a program at least partially similar to the one I heard in Versailles three years ago, combining dance pieces by Michael Praetorious with songs by Pierre Guédron.

Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, right panel (Hell), detail, Prado, MadridDenis 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.

Ensemble Doulce Mémoire and Il Ballarino, La Maison Française, April 24, 2006
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.

Other Reviews:

Jeffrey Gantz, Measure for measure (Boston Phoenix, April 26)
Ensemble Doulce Mémoire is on a concert tour of the United States right now. They were in New York this evening and will give one more concert, this Friday, in San Diego. Upcoming concerts at La Maison Française include violist Antoine Tamestit and cellist Alexis Desharmes in a free concert of contemporary (mostly) Hungarian music (this Friday, April 28, 7:30 pm), François Lazarevitch and the Musicians of Saint-Julien playing French Baroque music (Monday, May 22, 7:30 pm), and cellist Renaud Déjardin -- who was one of the six finalists in the Rostropovich Cello Competition in Paris last November -- and pianist Marta Godeny (Wednesday, May 24, 7:30 pm).


jfl said...

Is that flute sticking where I think it is?? Pfui.

Charles T. Downey said...

Hee hee! Last year, at band camp...

jfl said...

That was a Trombone and I'm still upset!

(reminds me of the scene in "C'est arrivé près de chez vous" - although that is an actual flute, not a recorder. and it reminds me of the stupid ditty someone told me when I was a kid [it greatly amused me, then...]

Goethe sagt zu Schiller: "Hol' aus deim' Arsch 'nen triller"

Schiller sagt zu Goethe: "Mein Arsch ist keine Floete!")

Garth Trinkl said...

boys, boys ... too much Canterbury Tales this week?

Charles, regarding Friday's Antoine Tamestit and cellist Alexis Desharmes recital at La Maison Francaise, I assume it would have been too difficult to write "free concert of contemporary Hungarian and Polish music", rather than "contemporary (mostly) Hungarian" music?

György Ligeti - Sonata for viola

Zoltán Kodaly - Sonata op. 8 for cello

Witold Lutoslawski - Bucolics for viola and cello

György Kurtag Five pieces for viola and cello (from « Signs, Games and Messages ») · Hommage à Tristan - Horváth Juditnak · Gruss an Elisabeth und Kaspar Weber · Felho Valék, már süt a nap (töredék-töredék) · Gemiti i sospiri (H.J.darabja) · ... and never part... - Sarlós Lászlónak

Béla Bartok - Eight pieces from the 44 duos for two violins (arr. viola and cello : Antoine Tamestit and Alexis Descharmes) · N° 32 : Dance from Máramaros · N° 28 : Sorrow · N° 36 : Bagpipes · N° 41 : Scherzo · N° 42 : Arabian Song · N° 22 : Mosquito Dance · N° 19 : Fairy Tale · N° 35 : Ruthenian Kolomeika

Charles T. Downey said...

Garth, thanks for the additional information. The embassy has advertised the concert as a "Hungarian" concert. I added (mostly) only to note that it is not only Hungarian music.

Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks, Charles.

Strange, the invitation that I received promoted it as a Hungarian and Polish concert

"Dear friends and patrons,

I am delighted to announce that, thanks to the generous support of the French American Cultural Foundation, La Maison Française is presenting a concert of Hungarian and Polish composers...."

I only threw my comment out after learning tht pianist Piotr Anderszewski was of both Polish and Hungarian ancestry -- a fact that I hadn't remembered and found interesting. (And the fact that Anderszewski substituted Beethoven for Szymanowski.)

Thanks again.

Charles T. Downey said...

From the embassy's Web site:

Antoine Tamestit (viola) - Alexis Desharmes (cello)
in a Hungarian Program

With a grant from the French American Cultural Foundation, La Maison Française is proud to present a free concert of Hungarian favorites.

Garth Trinkl said...

... " concert of Hungarian favorites" ...

You have to admire the European idealism when it comes to their modern (and contemporary) music!!