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According to their website, L'Académie du Roi Soleil (A.R.S.) is an early music consort dedicated to performing music of the French Baroque, among other genres. The name pays homage to Louis XIV, the Sun King, an important source of patronage for the arts. This ensemble is an international collaboration; jointly based in York, UK, and Charlotte, NC, that maintains an active performance schedule on both sides of the Atlantic.
Performers in The Music House production were Margaret Carpenter, soprano; Nicolas Haigh, harpsichord; Barbara Blaker Krumdieck, cello; Rebecca Troxler, flute; and David Wilson, violin.
Almost every event in the daily life of a 17th century monarch was a public event; waking up and going to bed were no exceptions. Palaces such as Hampton Court and Versailles had spectacular bedchambers in which the king donned his pajamas in front of a throng of courtiers and climbed into bed, only to move to a more reasonably-sized and more easily heated smaller bedchamber after the spectacle was over. Music was an essential part of this spectacle. Jean-Baptiste Lully wrote a series of trios “pour le Coucher du Roy,” from which part of this program is drawn. ARS devised a program of some of Lully's trios, interspersed with Ariane by Philippe Couperin, the Deuxieme Concert from Francois Couperin's Concerts Royeaux, and Le Sommeil d'Ulisse by Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre
The program opened with a Chaconne from the trios. Krumdieck's cello playing was without vibrato; Wilson used vibrato on his violin like grace notes. Troxler, playing a three-year-old flute by Martin Wenner, was in her usual good form. This grenadillo flute has a full tone that works well with this many other instruments.
P. Couperin's Ariane is a perfect platform for Carpenter's strong and beautiful voice. She's powerful without ever being screechy, fluid but extremely precise. In the recit "Mias l'amour," her voice is echoed by the flute so closely that effect is uncanny. Particularly in the “Air Dieu des mers,” Couperin writes lifelike program music with a vocal line, a vocal line which Carpenter executed to perfection. The Gavotte, with soprano, from Lully's trios, was simple, delicate, and lovely. The whole ensemble worked carefully with each other to ensure perfect balance and intonation.
The Deuxieme Concert from the Concerts Royeaux of Couperin le Grande included some wonderfully languid trills on the flute. The gentle ending snuck up on the audience, but when it was clear the piece was indeed over, the applause was appropriately generous.
After the usual tasty Music House intermission of wine and hors d'oeuvre, the second half of the concert was Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre's Le Sommeil d'Ulisse from her ca. 1715 Cantates françoises. The first recit, "Apres mille," was singing speech at its best; the "Tempeste,' both in its playing and its singing, was fiery, wild, and dangerous. The "Air Venez Minerve" gave Carpenter some notable coloratura work on “Volez, volez,” at the end. The "Sommeil" was the high point of the piece – Haigh's playing was precise and stylish, using the harpsichord buff stop. Carpenter's voice and Troxler's flute blended together perfectly. Troxler breathed complete vocal life into her flute. Carpenter's sustained notes were effortless and unforced.
As an encore, the ensemble played and sang the air "Vos Mespris Chaque Jour" by Michel Lambert.
It would be nice to have a chance to hear Haigh play by himself. It is to be hoped that the transcontinental nature of ARS will not prevent them from making beautiful music here again soon.