Tempesta di Mare | Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra & Chamber Players

2014–2015 Concert Series: “Bernier & Bourgeois”

 

A perfect matching of text and sound … instrumentalists dazzled with agility …

 

When Tempesta di Mare explores music’s past, it reminds listeners that the future has a lot to learn from it. This time, the baroque music ensemble uncovered Parisian favorites Saturday at Friends Meeting in Old City. In that unadorned setting, the five instrumentalists and soprano Rosa Lamoreaux offered elegantly ornamented singing and dances and a glimpse into the serious musical bases for aristocratic entertainment.

Is it art or is it entertainment? Paris had no problem with that question. Only 21st-century audiences grapple with it, muttering when principal guest conductor Stéphane Denève calls on his tradition to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra in popular fare. The French had a word for it: musique.

The ensemble celebrated the arrival of coffee as a late 17th-century craze. The soprano floated through Nicolas Bernier’s Le Café, a series of recitatives and arias praising the new drink as superior to wine and possibly better than anything served by the gods. Musically, it was a textbook of orderly harmonic progress, varied meters, theatrical gestures, and perfect matching of text and sound. Musically, it couldn’t have been tastier, for it blended wit and sonority, ironic comment with musical devices to burnish that irony. That Lamoreaux sang while raising a coffee cup at significant moments only furthered the message that art and entertainment can go hand in hand.

After instrumentalists had dazzled with agility in Jacques Morel’s Chacone en Trio, the soprano continued the course from light to serious with Couperin’s 3 Airs serieux. Serious, of course, means love, and she touched shadings of pain and joy with her richly colored voice and pointed articulation.

The darkness of entertainment came in Thomas-Louis Bourgeois’ cantata Phedre et Hypolitte, a boldly colored recollection of godly infidelities, Phedre’s husband’s death, and her suicide. Lamoreaux ranged from poignant love to bucolic recollection to savage anger and projected death, finding an apt color for each emotion and treating the musical line with respect. These entertainments taught moral lessons – or conveyed court gossip – with instrumental gestures and the singer’s stylish presentation. She was joined by Gwyn Roberts, flute; Emlyn Ngai, violin; Lisa Terry, gamba; Richard Stone, theorbo; and Adam Pearl, harpsichord. The clouds of sonority they built were formed with precise articulation and dramatic flair.” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 27, 2015

 

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