David Stern’s Fuoco Obbligato conquers Guérigny with an exquisite concert of Baroque obbligato arias

FranceFrance Prémery Music Festival 2023: Fuoco Obbligato: Anna Cavaliero (soprano), Rémy Brès-Feuillet (countertenor), Benoît Rameau (tenor), Jean Bregnac (flute), Katharina Wolff (violin), Jennifer Hardy (cello), Nora Dargazanli (harpsichord). L’Espace Lafayette, Guérigny, 2.7.2023. (LV)

Fuoco Obbligato © Clélia Stodal-Lurier

On 2 July at l’Espace Lafayette in Guérigny, where cannon balls and anchors were forged for the Marquis of Lafayette’s fleet which helped turn the tide during the American Revolution, the city celebrated America’s July Fourth with a concert by David Stern’s Fuoco Obbligato company from Paris. Presented under the auspices of the Prémery Music Festival, the concert featured three young singers from the company’s Atelier lyrique, headlined by rising French countertenor Rémy Brès-Feuillet.

The program featured Baroque arias with obbligato instruments by famous composers – Bach, Campra, Marcello, Rameau, Vivaldi and Boyce – along with some by remote figures Reinhold Keiser, John Frederick Lampe and Giacomo Facco. The music explored the relationship of man and nature in music and poetry of a most beautiful and sensuous kind. Under the circumstances, it was natural to have invited David Stern, said Festival president Dan Krajcman, who described Stern as ‘the most French of American conductors and whose father Isaac was also in love with the language and the natural beauties of France’.

Titled ‘Latte e Miele’ – milk and honey – it was a program that delved into repertoire of delicate, often incandescent beauty that you would expect to find on a label like Harmonia Mundi. It was not, however, the kind of audience one expects for such a program. Aside from the journalists and members of the Festival’s Ascanio in Alba cast and crew who had played Mozart the weekend before in the same excellent hall, the audience was made up of the citizens of Guérigny

They were entranced by the fresh faces and glorious voices of the young singers and charmed by Stern’s discursive comments on the concert’s three parts: ‘L’empire de l’amour’, ‘Les lieux désolés’ and ‘Les envolées du coeur’. His position that the obbligato aria ‘changed the history of music’ by paving the way for instrumental chamber music was clearly reflected in the ‘discourses’ between singers and instruments in each of the works. Stern did not have to dive deeply into Baroque notions of ‘gesture’ and ‘affect’: after all, who could turn down the chance to hear ravishing, intimate music ‘without having to listen to a four-hour opera’?

Dan Krajcman and David Stern after the concert in Guérigny © Clélia Stodal-Lurier

Stern’s charming introduction to music that was relentlessly obscure even to journalists may have gone for naught if the singing and playing had not been so authentically excellent. Coming off a triumph as Tolomeo in Leipzig Opera’s Giulio Cesare, Brès-Feuillet showed why he is scheduled to sing Megacle in Vivaldi’s L’Olimpiade with Jean-Christophe Spinosi in Beaune on 22 July, Handel’s Flavio at the Baroque opera in Bayreuth in September, Tolomeo at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in October and Nireno from Giulio Cesare at Paris’s Opera Garnier in February. He unleashed the power, emotion and purity of his voice most fully in an aria from Facco’s Las Amazonas de España in a richly inventive dialogue with violinist Katharina Wolff, daughter of musicologist Christoph Wolff and one-time concertmaster of Reinhard Goebel’s Musica Antiqua Köln. Her unique figurations preceding an aria from Vivaldi’s Ottone in Villa were a lesson in spontaneous music making.

Soprano Anna Cavaliero’s voice soared with flexibility and warmth and was under perfect control throughout the afternoon. Her enchanting performance of Lampe’s addicting ‘Pretty warblers’, an Emma Kirkby favorite, was enhanced by flutist Jean Bregnac’s haunting tone and studded with the bright gemstones of cellist Jennifer Hardy’s pizzicatos. Cavaliero was totally at home with the eroticism of Rameau’s ‘L’impatience’ and carried on a loving discourse with Hardy’s cello.

Tenor Benoît Rameau saved his best singing of the afternoon – generous in tone and spirit and articulating so clearly that he might have been acting in the theater – for a lovely William Boyce song. He was then joined by Brès-Feuillet and Cavaliero in an exhilarating concluding chorus with Katharina Wolff getting in the last flourish. The company responded to the cheers by repeating the chorus with Stern joining in (keep your day job), and everyone having lots of fun. What a concept for music of ‘gesture’ and ‘affect’.

Laurence Vittes

‘Empire of Love’
Bach – Cantata BWV 182, Sinfonia; Cantata BWV 204, ‘Meine Seele sei vergnügt’
Keiser – ‘Vieni a me dolce oggetto’ from Fredegunda
Campra – ‘Coulez ruisseau’ from Idomenée
Marcello – ‘Latte e Mele’ from Arianna

‘Lonely Places’
Lampe – ‘Pretty warblers’ from Dione
Facco – ‘Qué será, cielos, de mi’ from Las Amazonas de España
Rameau – ‘Lieux désolez’ from Les Boréades
Vivaldi – ‘Guarda in questi occhi’ from Ottone in Villa

‘Flights of the Heart’
Rameau – Cantata ‘L’impatience’
Bach – Cantate BWV 202, ‘Wenn die Frühlingslüfte streichen’
Boyce – ‘Softly rise, O southern breeze’ from Solomon

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