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Early Music Review

Magnolia Baroque Festival: Exploring Love and Death in 17th Century France

June 18, 2010 - Winston-Salem, NC:

The virtuoso Baroque band, Harmonious Blacksmith, treated an attentive and responsive audience to some rarities from 17th century France in the acoustically bright Gray Auditorium in the Old Salem Visitor Center Friday night.  The concert, “L’amour et la morte” (“Love and death”), is part of the five-day Magnolia Baroque Festival, a biennial event now in its fourth season.

Harmonious Blacksmith is comprised of spokesperson Joseph Gascho, harpsichord, Justin Godoy, recorder, Joshua Lee, gamba, John Lenti, theorbo/lute, and Linda Tsatsanis, soprano.  Through the course of the evening, almost any possible combination of instruments and voice was utilized in this journey of music from the salons of Paris to the court of Versailles.

The evening opened with a set of pieces by Michel Lambert, Pierre Guédron, and Jacques Gallot. Lambert’s “Goûtons un doux repos” (“Let us enjoy a sweet repose”), and Guédron’s “Dessus la rive de la mer” (“Upon the seashore”), and “Las! Pourquoi ne suis-je neé” (“Alas, why was I born”) featured the entire ensemble and gave a sampling of what the evening would hold. Each musician contributed a unique personality and timbre in a quasi-improvised but tightly held-together performance. The texts presented a bi-polar battle between ecstasy and despair, with little in between.

A harpsichord Suite in G followed. The piece is a transcription, made by Gascho, of music from Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s opera La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers  (“Orpheus’ Descent into Hell”). The five movements evocatively and effectively tell the story of the death of Euridice and her husband’s journey to Hades to secure her return to the land of the living.

Especially effective was a set of songs by Lambert, Robert de Visée, and Sébastien Le Camus arranged for voice and theorbo. Here one could appreciate the give and take between Tsatsanis and Lenti. The singer performed with great expression and a lightness befitting these expressions of love, and to say that Lenti “accompanied” would not give credit to his complete partnership in this undertaking. An instrumental chaconne provided the centerpiece of this set of five compositions. 

A change in the printed program replaced Jacques Morel’s “Chaconne en trio” with Gautier’s Chaconne, bringing Gascho, Lee, and Godoy together. Notable in this piece was the wonderful duet between the recorder and gamba.

Marin Marais’ “Les folies d’espagne” for harpsichord, theorbo, and gamba followed intermission. This set of variations runs the gamut from fast to slow and simple to virtuosic. Sometimes the harpsichord or theorbo dropped out, creating a change in texture that helped sustain interest in this lengthy work, a showpiece for gamba, which Lee exploited to the fullest.

The next set interspersed songs with instrumental numbers and brought the entire band back to the stage. Guédron’s “L’avignone” featured wonderful solo recorder playing by Godoy. An improvisation coupled with Louis Couperin’s Tombeau pour Monsieur Blancrocher gave Gascho more opportunity to show his sensitive virtuosity. Guédron’s “Bien qu’un cruel martire” (“Although a cruel martyrdom”) featured harpsichord and soprano and his “Qu’on ne me parle plus d’amour” (“Speak no more to me of love”) involved the entire group and spoke to the unfaithfulness of love.

Jean-Baptiste Lully’s instrumental six-movement Suite in G Minor proved to be a work primarily for recorder accompanied by varied instruments.  Beautiful.

The evening concluded with the upbeat “Aux plaisirs, aux délices bergères” (“To pleasure! To pastoral delights!”) by Guédron, which urged the listener to make the most of the present and “spend your life with loving.”