American Bach Soloists presented a program of French Baroque music in Davis with Jeffrey Thomas conducting. French music is not as known as German or Italian music of the same period, so for me this was a treat. Only Rameau is familiar to me. The program points out that the end of Lully's monopoly made this explosion of music possible.
Some of the pieces employ a chorus and three vocal soloists: Nola Richardson, soprano, Steven Brennfleck, haute-contre and William Sharp, baritone. A haute-contre is a kind of high tenor that is found in baroque and classical French music, and may continue on to the bel canto. I have never heard of an American calling himself this. Interesting. It is not to be confused with a countertenor.
Rebel: Les caractères de la danse (1715)Instrumental pieces from France are usually ballets or collections of typical dances of the period. The names of the movements are the same as the movements in Bach French Suites, for instance. There would have been dancing. Jeffrey suggested we could dance in the aisles, but no one did.
Corrette: Laudate Dominum de coelis (Vivaldi’s “Spring”) (1766)This is a special thing. The words of Psalm 148 in Latin have been used to transform Vivaldi's violin concerto Primavera into a motet or what I would probably call a cantata. It sort of sounds familiar but not quite. I enjoyed this piece very much with its quality of French sophistication mixed with Italian energy.
There are sections for chorus, an aria for soprano, an aria for haute-contra, and a duet for soprano and baritone. We have Italian coloratura also reflected in the violin solo.
Rameau: Suite from Dardanus (1739)This is a selection of dance movements from an opera. The movements don't have titles.
Mondonville: In Exitu Israel (1753)And now we are back to another cantata or motet, a piece in sections with chorus and soloists. This is why it is called a weekend in Paris. You would not see all these pieces on the same program. This is intended for periods in the church year when secular music is not permitted. It employs the text in Latin from Psalm 113. I am enjoying writing about these pieces since they are completely unfamiliar to me.
I don't recall coloratura, but there was quite a bit of almost comical text painting. One piece was unmistakably a laughing chorus, very lively and enjoyable. This composer was known for pieces in this genre. I loved it. There is a long solo for baritone. The singers were very good.
Marais: Suite from Sémélé (1709)These are again dances from an opera by a relatively unknown composer.
I want to congratulate them for putting together such a varied and fascinating program. I enjoyed it very much. They delight through great attention to phrasing.