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Bienvenue: Lazarevitch and Musicians of Saint-Julien

Musical Swan?La Maison Française presents plenty events of interest, and Monday was no exception. In their first U.S. engagement, François Lazarevitch and the Musicians of Saint-Julien – Élizabeth Geiger, harpsichord, and Nima Ben David, viola da gamba – performed a nicely balanced program of French Baroque pieces, with Mr. Lazarevitch leading the trio on transverse flute, recorder (a sonata by Philidor), and Baroque Musette (about which more later).

Frankly I have no business at a flute concert, the modern flute being my least favorite solo instrument, too sweet and insistent for enjoyment at length (apologies to Messrs. Galway, Gaulois, et al., I know it’s not your fault). Mr. Lazarevitch’s transverse flute, however, has a mellow, woody tone and blends beautifully with other instruments, at least in these performance. At no time did he or his delightful companions tire the ear, quite the contrary…they could have gone on for another hour or so.

All the music on the program could be described as light, decorative in the Baroque manner, but there was no lack of that restrained, dignified melancholy that to me encapsulates the Baroque experience, as in the “Tendrement” section of Montéclair’s Deuxième Concert, which opened the program. The viola da gamba, of course, is the perfect embodiment of that sensibility, especially as played by Ms. Ben David, who shone in solo selections from Marais’s Le Tombeau de Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe.

The lovely Ms. Geiger also got her solo slot with two pieces by Dandrieu (La Lyre d’Orphée and La Figurée, respectively nostalgic and bouncy; and the ensemble as a whole did proud the best music on the program, three of Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concert. In short this was not a flutist-with-accompaniment recital but a partnership among equals.

In the closing work, Hotteterre’s La Noce Champétre, the focus moved decisively to Mr. Lazarevitch, and the material became distinctly R-rated despite the soloist’s nice try for a PG in introducing each section: calling the Le coucher section ‘bedtime’, for instance. But Mr. Lazarevitch was playing the Baroque musette, an instrument with more appendages than seems decent, and some of the sounds he produced were much too explicit for the Ionarts reader. At least there was no doubt the Hotteterre was all in fun, in the rustic style of Leopold Mozart’s Bavarian Wedding but (obviously) earlier in date and more imaginative. The Prèlude set the stage and introduced the sound of the musette — called by many, including Mr. Lazarevitch, a bagpipe-ancestor — but played with under-arm squeezebox and keys in a manner that calls to mind the accordion.

The wedding march follows, a bit troubled and solemn on the musette, perhaps forecasting events in Le coucher. A fine display for an archaic instrument, reminding the audience that some music truly demands original instruments and does not benefit from endless retranscription.

Mr. Lazarevitch was excellent throughout, with excellent breath control, and integrating his distinctive sounds with his partners for the benefit of the music. Not to be missed on their next engagement for anyone moved by the spirit of the Baroque.

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