Putting Louis XIV to bed

By Philippa Kiraly

This has to be one of Concert Spirituel’s more intriguing titles for a concert. Jeffrey Cohan, the moving spirit behind Concert Spirituel, found an early edition in the National Library of “Trios pour coucher du Roi,” and other contemporary works of similar type, and put together a charming program from them. Louis XIV lived from 1638-1715, at the same time as France nurtured a group of fine composers, of whom Jean-Baptiste Lully, Andre Danican Philidor l‘Aisne, Marin Marais, Michel Richard de la Lande, Pierre Gaultier de Marseille, Robert de Visee, Andre Cheron and Jacques Hotteterre were featured in this program.

For the King’s bedtime rituals, it would have been a small group of musicians probably playing in an ante-room. Cohan, playing baroque flute himself, had with him baroque violinist Courtney Kuroda, baroque bassoonist Anna Marsh and theorbo (bass lute) player, John Lenti.

They played at Christ Episcopal Church in the University District, which, while not big, is probably larger than was the King’s ante-room, and the small number performing such gentle music sounded a little thin and unbalanced in that larger space. Livelier works, which punctuated the program, fared better.
Cohan’s baroque flute was noticeably quieter than Kuroda’s violin, and while the baroque violin has a clear sound with an edge to it, baroque flute has no edge, so frequently one had to listen to hear it, even though the flute had the upper line.

It was a delight to have baroque bassoon, which hasn’t been nearly so commonly heard here as other instruments of that era for the past couple of decades at least. In this small group, its timbre stood out. It’s gentler than a modern bassoon, of course, but has a warm woody sound, and Marsh, who has been making a name for herself around the country, played it with taste and skill. It is however, a lot louder than the theorbo, so again there was an imbalance, this time in the lower registers.

All the same, it’s rare to have a chance to hear this literature of tiny symphonies—at that time just a short one movement piece—, pop songs of the day transcribed for instruments, various pieces for two or three instruments, a few Chaconnes—pieces with a repeating bass line—, even some music from a masque.
This last, supposed to be set in China, included a “Marche du Roy de la Chine,” “Entre d’une pagode,” and to end, a “Gigue,” surely out of place in China, but then no one in those days had the slightest idea how Chinese music should sound. Marsh and Lenti performed it with elan.

Lively pieces by de la Lande and Lully, a Ciacona (chaconne) from Sonata VII in G Major by Corelli, and Sonata VII in D Major by the much younger Cheron, all had more zest to their performances, the results being very satisfying. So also was “Les Sylvains” (“The Forest Dwellers”) of Francois Couperin, arranged by de Visee and played solo by Lenti.

The many small pleasures of this concert and its carefully built program added up to a worthwhile evening. Concert Spirituel has several upcoming concerts this spring, but does not have a web site, so email cohanjeffrey@aol.com to find out more.


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