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Harpsichordist Beverly Biggs is not new to Music House audiences. In this concert, she brought to Greenville three effective accomplices: Jennifer Streeter, recorder; Gesa Kordes, Baroque violin; and Gail Ann Schroeder, viola da gamba. The four make up one iteration of Biggs's ensemble Baroque and Beyond where their bios can be found.
Biggs played the Music House French double by Richard Kingston, an excellent instrument for a program entitled "Versailles," featuring composers of the court and nobility. Streeter had Baroque treble and soprano recorders, Kordes a violin set up in the Baroque style, and Schroeder a seven-string bass gamba and a six-string treble viol.
The first piece, Suite à 3 No.1 (in C) by Marin Marais, was sadly lifeless. But wait, there's more!
The second piece was a suite arranged for recorder and harpsichord from François Couperin le grand's 14ème Ordre: "La Linote éfarouchée," "Le Rossignol en amour," :Double du Rossignol," and "Le Rossignol Vainqueur" – all bird-call pieces. The first, the frightened linnet, has lots of long runs for the recorder with scant place to breathe. Streeter's playing was excellent, and Biggs' accompaniment was sprightly. The nightingale in love and his double were for solo recorder and were very freely played to emphasize the birdcall effect. The old bird got lucky in the third movement and definitely rejoiced! The harpsichord accompaniment enforced a little more rhythmic structure, but the overall result was rollicking.
The remarkable Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, a child prodigy and celebrated as one of the few female composers of the Baroque era, composed the third piece of the evening – Sonata No. 4 in G for violin, viol, and basso continuo. The playing was strong and spirited; Kordes was especially passionate in the first Adagio.
The Sonate a 3 dessus in G by Louis-Antoine Dornel is from his Concerts des symphonies, 3ème livre, 1723. Dornel, although not a court musician, moved in the highest circles of French music. This piece was played by Streeter, Kordes, and Schroeder (treble viol), without harpsichord accompaniment. Some performers are known to watch each other very closely; generally, this produces good ensemble and is also pleasant to observe. Others are like Streeter, Kordes, and Schroeder who give very little indication that they are not each in their own bubble. But these players are clearly listening and attending to each other in order to produce such a masterful, homogenous ensemble. The four movements were Modéré, Fugue gayment, Lentement, and Vivement. All the playing was very carefully crafted. These performers "play well with others!"
Jean-Marie Leclair was born in Lyon, studied as a youth in Turin, played in the Concert Spirituel in Paris, and was in the employ of Anne, Princess of Orange, at The Hague. His Deuxième recreation de musique, Opus 8, is a powerful, complex, and joyous work, which these players executed with verve and brilliance.
In the second movement, Forlane: Point trop vite, the beauty of the performance was reflected in the enthusiasm of the players. In the Minuet, the strong sense of triple rhythm was strengthened further by the strong rhythmic emphasis of the six-beat phrases implicit in the standard minuet. The Badinage was accurately named and accurately performed. The complex Chaconne was magic under the fingers of the four players. The piece concluded with a Tambourin: Vite – further magic from Baroque and Beyond.