Gilchrist, Rameau and Clérambault Explore the Sorrows of Love

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Marais, Rameau, Couperin, Clérambault: James Gilchrist (tenor), Ben Samsom (violin), Imogen Seth-Smith (Viola da gamba), Warwick Cole (harpsichord), Holy Apostles’ Church, Cheltenham, 6.2.2016. (RJ)

Marin Marais (1656-1728):  Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève du Mont de Paris

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1688-1764): L’Impatience

François Couperin (1683-1764): Septième Concert from Les Goûts Réunis

Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749): Le Jaloux

The French have a reputation for being somewhat purist in matters linguistic and musical, yet history has shown that, certainly in the latter category, crossfertilization can be beneficial. This recital of French Baroque music proved the point.

It began with Marais’ more traditionally French Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève in which the violin and viola da gamba provided plenty of variety against the repeated three chords on the harpsichord. In his Septième Concert, by contrast, Couperin synthesises French and Italian styles marrying French melodic sophistication with the Italian violin sonata. Very attractive it sounded too with a bright sounding Allemande, a lively Fugueta and a lilting Sicilienne.

The cantata was an import from Italy and it was intriguing to see how French composers (Rameau and Clérambault on this occasion) had adapted it to their own requirements. James Gilchrist took on the roles of two love-smitten young men – the first finnicky, the second desperate – and clearly relished revisiting the days of his youth.

In Rameau’s three movement cantata (three arias preceded by a recitative) we meet a tetchy young man whose sweetheart is late for a date. He contrasts his plight with the birds who seem to experience no such problems with punctuality, but does not envy them because he realises that the pleasure of love will be accentuated as a consequence of the delay. In the final movement the lady appears to the man’s delight, though he cannot resist a gentle reproof in his final aria.

In Clérambault’s Le Jaloux the situation is far more dire: the lover has a rival. While the cantata begins innocuously enough with the lyrical “Reviens, printemps”, the second aria is of a darker hue as he reveals that the rival is a soldier, and presumably more of a catch than a chap who likes singing, dancing and fashionable clothes – as he seems to. “Hélas,” he cries in desperation in his only recitative. News that his rival will be going away brings a glimmer of hope until he realises that absence is likely to make his sweetheart’s heart grow stronger (for his rival) and launches into a dramatic cry for help: “Amour, vengez-moi”. The cantata ends neatly with a reprise of “Reviens, printemps.”

Of the two cantatas the second was by far the most satisfying and dramatic covering a much wider spectrum of emotion than L’Impatiente in which the effete protagonist fails to engage our attention. Le Jaloux is much more interesting: its music is more direct and free of embellishment, so it had the greater impact.

This was an adventurous and attractive morning recital with splendid performances from the versatile James Gilchrist and members of the Corelli Ensemble. French Baroque music seldom gets an airing in the provinces (except perhaps in Yorkshire) but given the enthusiastic reaction these pieces received from a large and appreciative audience (who braved the inclement weather to hear them) one hopes this style of music will eventually gain more friends.

Roger Jones

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