On Tuesday afternoon I went to Holy Trinity Church on Central Park West where the Juilliard415, the school's Baroque ensemble, was performing another lunchtime recital. As on the last occasion, the group showcased the music of France in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in a program entitled Les Plaisirs de Versailles et Paris: French Chamber Music from the Ancien Regime.
The recital began with Jean Baptiste Lully's Ballet du Palace d'Alcine from Les Plaisirs de l'île enchantée (1664) arranged for two violins, viola, two cellos and guitar. Several seasons ago, I heard the English Concert perform a work on the same subject, Handel's 1728 opera Alcina, and thought it one of the most enjoyable examples of opera seria I'd come across. Lully's music was of an entirely different character. Written for the festivities staged at Versailles by Louis XIV in honor of his long suffering wife, Maria Theresa, and his mother, Anne of Austria, the music was as thoroughly stately and correct as the occasion required. At the time he composed it, Lully was at the pinnacle of his career. As superintendent of royal music, he was director of the two court violin orchestras and had primary responsibility for the many ballets and recitals ordered by the king. He had also begun his collaboration with the playwright Molière that was to culminate six years later in the incidental music for Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.
The next work was François Couperin's La Françoise from Les Nations (1726) arranged for flute, oboe, violin, cello and harpsichord. The composer's contributions to French music were among the most important of the Baroque era. An ardent admirer of Arcangelo Corelli, it was Couperin who first introduced the trio sonata to France. In October, I heard the Juilliard415 perform another selection from Les Nations, Dances from L'Espagnole. In such works as Les goûts réunis Couperin was attempting to reconcile the widely divergent musical forms then in vogue among various European countries in order to create a truly international style.
There were two works on the program by Marin Marais, both taken from Pièces en trio (1692). The first was the Suite No. 3 in D major arranged for flute, violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord while the second, the Suite No. 1 in C major, was arranged for two violins, bassoon and theorbo. Marais had been a student of Lully, and like his mentor he found favor at the French court where he was given the high sounding title ordinaire de la chambre du roy pour la viole. His most important works were the five books he contributed to Pièces de viole (1686-1725) that were distinguished by the highly detailed instructions to musicians regarding the fingerings to be used in performance.
In between the two pieces by Marais, the ensemble performed Jean-Marie Leclair's Deuxième Récréation de musique d'une exécution facile, Op. 8 (1737) arranged for flute, violin, cello and harpsichord. I had previously heard selections from this same work at the ensemble's October recital but arranged for different instrumentation. The piece, which isn't nearly as easy as its title would lead one to beleive, was something of a departure for the composer, most of whose works consisted of extremely challenging violin sonatas. This is not surprising since LeClair was a virtuoso violinist who, despite a five year absence in the Netherlands, exerted great influence on the development of French violin music.
The program concluded with Louis-Antoine Dornel's Suite No. 3 in D minor from Livre de simphonies (1709) arranged for two violins, cello and harpsichord. Though held in high esteem during his lifetime, Dornel was largely forgotten after his death, perhaps because so little of his music survived him. For seventeen years he was music master of the Académie Française, but none of the sacred music he composed in fulfillment of his duties is still extant. The present suite was competent and pleasant enough to hear but not particularly memorable.
The recital lasted a full hour and forty minutes with no intermission, but no one in the audience was complaining. It was our good luck to have heard such accomplished musicians perform once popular works that have fallen into obscurity over the course of centuries but are no less wonderful for that.