Ton Koopman’s Baroque Itinéraire Festival in France’s beautiful Périgord returns

FranceFrance Baroque Itinéraire en Périgord, 2022: Église Abbatiale Saint-Cybard de Cercles, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France, 28-31.7.2022. (CC)

Albert Recasens

Ton Koopman’s Baroque Itinéraire Festival in France’s beautiful Périgord returns to full force after a slimmed down version last year. Clement circumstance meant I was able to cover some of the 2022 festival; inclement circumstance meant only two days of the festival, and that I had to miss the ‘Itinéraire’ itself.

Still, there were, as usual, marvels galore. It was the glories of Jean Mouton’s Missa Tu es potentia that had prompted the journey from Poitiers (where I was on other musical business) to Angoulême rather than Poitiers to St Pancras. The Mouton is an absolute masterpiece, and to hear it live in these surroundings seemed too good to miss. But there was more: as so often, Koopman’s festival showcases not only the best performers in the music of this period, but younger artists too. So it was that the young people of La Grande Chapelle and Capella Pratensis rubbed shoulders, musically and outside in the sunshine, with established and sometimes legendary figures – Emma Kirkby, Fred Jacobs and, indeed, Koopman himself.

28.7.2022 – Ouverture: Music for the Chapel Royal: Tonos and Villancicos: La Grande Chapelle / Albert Recasens (director).

Juan Hidalgo (1614-1685) – ¡Venid, querubines alados!; Al dichoso nacer de mi Niño; Anarda divina. Antorcha brillante; ¡Ay, corazón amantel Aunque en el pan del Cielo; Ay, cómo gime.
Carlos Patiño (1600-1675) – Matizada flor del campo. Hoy mis penas confirman; Cantar las gracias de Flora; No puede amor hacer finezas
Sebastián Durán (1660-1716) – Cupidillo volante; Todo es enigmas amor; Segadorcillos que al son de las hoces. Volcanes de amor …
Lucas Ruis de Ribayaz (pre-1650) – Españoleta

With one change of membership due to Covid (Lucia Carihuela replacing Lina Marcela López in the line-up), La Grande Chapelle embarked on a fascinating programme of ‘Tonos’ and ‘Villancicos’, the prevailing modes of expression for early 17th-century Spanish and Portuguese composers. In Spain, during the reigns of Philip II, Philip IV and Carlos II, there flourished artists such as Rubens, Velázquez, Giordano and Calderón. The composers here represent the seventeenth century Spanish court, therefore. While Juan Hidalgo might be the most famous of the names here to non-specialists, for this writer at least, it was the profundity of Sebastián Durón that shone like a black pearl, his profundity immediately obvious.

But first to Hidalgo. La Grande Chapelle under Recasens has recorded a disc of his music, Música para el Rey Planeta; it, like the recital here, began with the buoyant ¡Venid, querubines aladosi, a four-voice villancico full of life, the bright, glowing sopranos (Eugenia Boix and Carihuela) carrying the majority of melody; flowerings into full harmony were glorious. It was followed by a Christmas tono, Hidalgo’s Al dichoso nacer de me Niño, the music more tender, its rhythms nevertheless still buoyant. The supporting instrumental group comprised two violas da gamba (Sara Ruiz, Belisana Ruiz) and Spanish harp (Sara Aguedo), creating the perfect grounding (and decorative) support. His tender ¡Ay, corazón amantel, with a gentle accompaniment of harp, guitar and gamba offered not only beauty but a true narrational quality while Aunque en el pan del cielo with its extended opening for harp, theorbo and gamba offered pure elegance.

Interestingly (to my ears at least), Carlos Patiña’s Matizada flor del campo seemed to exist in a Venn diagram with the English madrigal tradition – there were definite intersections – though the music remained identifiably Spanish. The came Durón (again, there is a whole disc of Duron recorded by the present performers on the Lauda label), his Cupidillo volante (Solo al Santísimo Sacramento). The music is shot through with emotion, and all credit to tenor Gerardo López-Gámez for the character of his delivery. This impression was confirmed later by Durón’s Todo es enigmas amor, its meditation on the enigmas of love the perfect example of how La Grande Chapelle are basically fabulous story-tellers. Their sense of shape and drama is impeccable. The dancing but eloquent Segadorcillos que al son de las hoces is not only the height of compositional perfection, but also demonstrated the care lavished on these performances, the way the soprano differentiated subtly between each statement of a single syllable ‘Ta’; a little, but significant detail. It was Durón’s ¡Volcanes de amor…  that surely was the triumph of the evening, infectious in its cross-play of the word ‘fuego (fire)’. Utter delight from first to last.

La Grande Chapelle

Subtlety is very much part of La Grande Chapelle; repeated phrases can be subtly and powerfully altered on repetition, and in imitation between voices one feels a real sense of conversation (Hidalgo’s Anarda divina demonstrated both traits perfectly). Their sound can positively glow (the tutti of Patiña’s Hoy mis penas confirman).

There was an implied interval in the programme booklet, but the singers went straight through – rightly, as one could feel the audience engagement rising with each piece. Soprano Eugenia Boix’s extended solo in Hidalgo’s Antorcha Brillante was a masterpiece of beauty; as the other voices enter, it is like watching music in the act of flowering. It was Hidalgo who had the last official word: ¡Ay, cómo gime!, nicely buoyant. The instrumental Españoleta by Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz had punctuated the concert and was the perfect palette refresher.

Ezekiel’s Eagle: Mouton & Gregorian Chant: Cappella Pratensis / Stratton Bull (director). 29.7.2022, 12:00

Jean Mouton  – Missa, Tua est potentia; Motet, Tua est potentia; interspersed with Gregorian Chant

Cappella Pratensis has recorded this programme to fine effect. They are also in the process of recording nine Choir Books from ‘s-Hertogenbosch: polyphony complemented by a variety of plainchant (often reflecting local practices). The Den Bosch Choirbooks will take the group from 2020 to 2024 and result in five discs.

Here we exit the Baroque and move to the Renaissance and Jean Mouton (c.1459–1522). Details of Mouton’s life are understandably scant, but we do know he was in charge of choirboys in Amiens and later became the principal composer of the French court. He wrote a total of 15 masses, and if they are all as fine as this one, that is cause indeed for celebration. This is a true masterpiece, written with devotion and musical mastery. Some of the harmonies are remarkable, harmonic false relations that sound almost modern to our ears today. They require a choir of skill to negotiate them, and Cappella Pratensis, clearly not just immersed but positively soaked in this music, are themselves masters of their craft. The blossoming of the Gregorian chant Introit Prolexisti me, Deus, prepared the ground for a multiplicity of moments of revelation. The ensemble’s way with the melismatic writing in the Gregorian chant was magnificent, perfectly together, timeless, the contours of the music lovingly revealed. One can hear this for example in the Alleluia Dominus in Synai.

The Cappella Pratensis boasts strong countertenors in the form of Stratton Bull (also the director) and Andrew Hallock. The way they sing, almost huddled together around a single music stand that holds a facsimile of the original music and change positions from piece to piece (for example before the Credo), adds an extra layer of theatre to the experience.

Historically, one can claim that Mouton’s influence was most clearly found in the music of his better-known pupil, Adrian Willaert, one of the founders of the Venetian School. His music is deeply expressive and this group of singers sings from the heart. Musicological integrity does not mean musical distance, and of course the church acoustic of Saint-Cybard supported the sound perfectly. The Missa Tua est potentia holds moments of the greatest beauty – the ‘Et expecto’ from the Credo, for example. And yet parts of the Sanctus (with the Elevation motet, ‘O salutaris hostia’) almost dance.

Finishing with the plainchant Ego Sum Vitis, and its restrained final ‘Alleluia’, was unforgettable.

Almost finishing, that should have read, there was an encore, more Mouton: the motet Da Pacem Domine. Perhaps we could have guessed (it is the last track of their disc). But so what if we did? This is heavenly, gloriously complex, its lines effortlessly negotiated by the supreme talent of the Cappella Pratensis.

Words with just notes and accent: Dame Emma Kirkby (soprano), Fred Jacobs (theorbo). 29.7.2022, 17:00

CacciniDolcissimo Sospiro; Al fonte al prato
KapsbergerPassacaglia; Toccata terza
D’IndiaAmico hai vinto; Poco quindi lontan; Non mari già
LanierNo more shall meads be deck’d with flowers
LawesO let me groan one word into thine ear. A tale out of Anacreon. Or you, or I, nature did wrong!
HurelPièces de théorbe en Ré: Prélude; Courante; Les Pellerins (Lully, Ballet royal, 1662)
BlowPeaceful is he, and most secure; Grant me, ye Gods; Draw out the minutes twice as long (plus encore, The Self-Banished)
De ViséePièces de théorbe en La: Prélude; La Mascarade; Rondeau; Menuet en rondeau (Lully, Phaëton)
PurcellWhat a sad fate is mine, Z 428. The fatal hour, Z 421. Music for a while, Z 583.

The name Dame Emma Kirkby has surely attained quasi-legendary status. Partnered here by the expert theorbist Fred Jacobs, Kirkby lovingly delivered an unforgettable recital of delectable music. Jacobs got chances to shine, too, and shine he did, reminding us of the status of Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c.1580-1651) and Robert de Visée (c.1660-c. 1732).

But we start with Caccini, Dolcissimo Sospiro from his Nuove Musiche (a selection of songs published in Florence in 1602, known as one of the first examples of the Baroque’s seconda prattica – in fact it was Caccini who coined the term, ‘Seconda Prattica’). Kirkby’s voice remains of the utmost purity, and her decorations are as perfectly judged as her slurs. The piece hinted at another aspect of the recital – Kirkby’s performance style. She lives the songs. One can see the joy in her when the mood is happy; one feels her pain when love, or even people, die. Her programme’s title comes from a poem by John Milton, To Mr. H. Lawes, on his Aires.

How Caccini’s Al fonte, al prato danced, Jacobs’s theorbo almost alive such were the vitality of his rhythms; and how superbly Kirkby negotiated the active line. Her voice is perhaps quite small (I was sitting in the front row, so no problems of projection there, but I wonder about much further back), but she is capable of the most remarkable projection of emotion – a projection that culminated in a simply astonishing performance of Purcell’s Music for a while and not a dry eye in the house (church).

It is surely impossible to imagine a better performance of Kapsberger’s Passacaglia than Fred Jacobs’s: the essence of a passacaglia is perhaps the seemingly inevitable tread of the bassline, against which magic unfolds. And so it was here, the bass not only invoking the timeless, but also a sense of circularity, of cycles, while the upper lines get more involved. It seemed the perfect link to the next group of songs …

Some composers just exude profundity. We (read ‘I’) discovered one earlier, in the form of Sebastián Durón. I was aware, this time of Sigismondo d’India (c.1582-1629). Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata of 1621 furnished Amico, hai vint and that first part is itself enough to pierce the heart, but Kirkby and Jacobs took us to almost unbearable regions in ‘Poco quindi lontan’. Remarkable. It was left to Jacobs to provide an instrumental contrast – the slow Toccata terza, again utterly transportative. Jacobs inhabits this world perfectly.

Interesting to hear that Kirkby’s low register (I associate her with the higher soprano range) is so well formed – as we heard in Nicholas Lanier’s No more shall meads be deck’d with flowers. If Lawes’s O let me groan acted as something of a hyper-beautiful prolongation to the Lanier, his A tale out of Anacreon (‘At dead low ebb of light’) took us to another space entirely, the scena acted beautifully – and so lovely to hear how Jacobs’s accents seemed to launch Kirkby’s phrases – true communication. Phrases were connected just as much, if more subtly, in Or you, or I, nature did wrong! by Lawes.

Fascinating to hear John Blow songs after a fabulous set of pieces from Pièces de Théorbe in D (Charles Hurel c.1665-92). Her almost whispered ending to Peaceful is he, and most secure, the way repetitions were varied in Grant me, ye Gods and the simply gorgeous Draw out the minutes all conspired to persuade this listener at least that Blow is absolutely Purcell’s equal. And we got the chance to test that out, with the juxtaposition of Blow and Purcell here: What a sad fate is mine launched a set of three songs that led inevitably to that Music for a While. Again, Kirkby lived What a sad fate and The Fatal Hour Comes on Apace was the sound equivalent of watching dusk fall (and a moment of miraculous happenstance, when the church bell of Saint-Cybard struck at the words ‘my grief’). Music for a while was unbearably poignant, but it was left to Blow to close out with two encores: The Self-Banished and Draw out the minutes twice as long.

Supreme musicality from both artists working as one. A very special recital.

Trio en fête: Tini Mathot (harpsichord), Reine-Marie Verhagen (recorder), Ton Koopman (harpsichord/director), 29.7.2022, 21.00. (CC)

Telemann – Trio Sonatas: B flat major; D minor; C minor
L. Couperin – Chaconne in C (harpsichord solo, Koopman)
Bach – Trio Sonata in C, BWV 530

A late start of 9pm perhaps contributed to the shedding of one item from this programme – C. P. E. Bach’s Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord obbligato, Wq. 83/ H 505. A shame, as almost any C. P. E. Bach is to be welcomed, and this one is a lovely one. Still, plenty of goodies left, starting with Telemann and memories of Telemann year at Itinéraire Baroque came flooding back.

A trio of Trios from Telemann (closing with one in C minor) plus music for solo harpsichord by Louis Couperin and a Bach Trio Sonata were given added depth by the use of a second harpsichord – one harpsichord (Tini Mathot) as solo, the other (Koopman) as continuo. Reine-Marie Verhagen, who had opened the 2018 Itinéraire at the Église Saint-Laurent de Mareuil playing music by van Eyck (‘The Orpheus of Utrecht’). Mathot’s playing in the finale in particular of the first Telemann Trio Sonata (B flat) was utterly convincing, while all players caught real vivacity in the Vivace. The Trio Sonata in D minor found real expression from Verhagen and Mathot; the final C minor felt the perfect close. This was chamber music played not just by top professionals, but between friends. Inevitably, some Bach was programmed, the C minor Trio, BWV 530, but somehow it was the Telemann that seemed the dominant force.

Whilst I might generally revere Christophe Rousset in Couperin (Louis, here), Koopman was every inch as convincing in Louis’s Chaconne in C for solo harpsichord. The texture became ever more ornate. This is a very varied Chaconne, and Koopman relished its inventiveness. Superb. And Bach’s Trio Sonata BWV 530 found the players revelling in Bach’s magnificent counterpoint. Only three movements to the Bach (four to everyone else), but what a civilised yet profound performance this was.

Baroque Itinéraire continued apace – the Itinéraire itself promised much, not least because of Antoinette Lohmann’s lecture (at 3pm) on Violinists and Fiddlers (it was given in English and considered the idea of high and low music, of ‘Spielmänner’, drawing from her obviously vast knowledge). Antoinette Lohmann is one half of the violin and harpsichord duo Furor Musicus (with Edoardo Valorz) and their concert presenting the music of Johann Fischer (1646-1716) at Église Saint-Victor – one of the more outlying churches – looked fascinating. Ah well, next year perhaps …

Colin Clarke

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