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A Rococo "Noël" with Opera Lafayette

La Maison Française hosted a concert of French Baroque instrumental music and a few songs on Sunday evening. Although the concert was billed as “A Rococo Noël,” Opera Lafayette's Artistic Director Ryan Brown candidly commented that the program was clearly short on “Noël,” while reminding the audience that music of the French baroque is always “festive.” The four-person Four Nations Ensemble, consisting of violin, flute, cello, and harpsichord, was joined by violinist Ryan Brown and superb Canadian mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne. François Couperin’s L’Impérial Sonata and Suite from Les Nations featured vivid instrumental playing. Two songs of heartache – one by Lully and another by Lambert – between the Sonata and Suite featured Boulianne.

The instrumental ensemble was strongest when Brown led the first violin part with chiseled detail, gentle notes inégales that were never predictable, and sparkling ornamentation. Linear upper lines were balanced by the vigorous continuo playing of harpsichordist Andrew Appel (Artistic Director of Four Nations Ensemble) and cellist Loretta O’Sullivan; tempi were strong, never fast. Boulianne rendered Lully’s Récit de la Beauté beautifully, with painfully dissonant ornaments on the word “peines.” Lambert’s Pour mes chants featured the subject of melancholy: “I never want it to cease… but rather prolong it.” The Couperin suite’s variety of dance rhythms were a joy.

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, Opera Lafayette and Four Nations Ensemble (Washington Post, December 4)
Unfortunately, Krista Bennion Feeney’s E string had a noticeable squeak, causing Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville’s Sonata IV from Les Sons Harmoniques to be less than ideal even though the music was highly attractive. Boulianne’s performance of Mondonville’s Benefac, Domine was diminished by the violin and harpsichord’s doubling of the vocal line, which caused some tuning issues. Boulianne’s sublime instrument, both reedy and warm, was always in motion, ready to tackle all technical and musical demands. The evening ended with Leclair’s Deuxième Récréation de Musique from Pièces de Clavecin avec Voix ou Violon, with flutist Charles Brink joining the full ensemble. The work ends with an elaborate chaconne followed by a contrasting, flitty tambourin. This program was dedicated to the late Albert Fuller, who passed away in September, an academic/performer seminal in bringing French music to America. This was fitting, since Fuller was born in Washington and cut his musical teeth as a chorister at Washington National Cathedral.

The next concert by Opera Lafayette is The Genesis of Don Giovanni, combining excerpted scenes from Mozart's masterpiece with two earlier operas on the same story, Gazzaniga's Il Convitato di Pietra and Melani's L'Empio Punito (March 9, 3 pm). The next concert at La Maison Française is Jazz and the Diva, featuring soprano Caroline Casadesus, jazz violinist Didier Lockwood, and pianist Dimitri Naïditch, a show that has been wildly successful in France (December 9 and 10, in English; December 11, in French).

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