Thursday, April 24, 2014

Musical legacy of Louis XIV's royal court gets appealing survey by Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra

Flourishing under the artistic direction of Dutch early-music star Barthold Kuijken, the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra has now confirmed its imposing stature on disc with "All Hail
Barthold Kuijken is soloist and director of "All Hail the Sun King."
the Sun King: Music Inspired by the Court at Versailles" (IndieBarock). 

The idea is to trace the influence of the French baroque style as exemplified in its golden age (during the reign of Louis XIV) by Jean-Baptiste Lully — mainly in France, but also (particularly as one of his early influences) in the work of Georg Philipp Telemann. Lully, the native Italian who became the fountainhead of music at the French court, opens the disc with two excerpts from "Armide" — a majestic, then dancing, Ouverture followed by a deft exercise in variation form, Passacaille, notable in this performance for the velvet flute timbre.

Kuijken is featured as soloist in Jean-Marie Leclair's Concerto in C major for flute, strings and basso continuo, in which his warm tone and shapely, firmly supported phrasing give special appeal to each of the three movements. (Leclair is one of only two composers I know of who was murdered, the other being the 20th-century American opera composer Marc Blitzstein.)

The Telemann piece is the Ouverture in E minor (1716), a five-movement work in his characteristically straightforward style. To his craftsmanship the prolific German composer couldn't help adding direct emotional or picturesque appeal. That can be seen conspicuously here in "Les Cyclopes," the second movement, with its ungainly vigor evoking the one-eyed beings of ancient Greek mythology.  Telemann had an uncanny gift for varying ensemble texture without seeming to get complicated — a facility that clearly contributed to popularity in his era that overshadowed his contemporary J.S. Bach.

Taking up a generous portion of "All Hail the Sun King" is a multifaceted suite by Jean-Philippe Rameau from the opera "Dardanus" (1739/1744). The orchestra in this performance is smaller than what would have been the operatic norm, Kuijken points out in booklet notes. Thus scaled down, the ensemble emphasizes the clear outlines of Rameau's style, in the intimate fashion better known in his keyboard music. As displayed in these 15 self-contained excerpts, Rameau's art is particularly rich in the attributes typical of the French Enlightenment in its poise, rhythmic liveliness, balance and concision. Some of the tunes are catchy, too.

Well-recorded in Lilly Hall at the University of Indianapolis' DeHaan Fine Arts Center and buoyed by informed, committed performances, this disc can be unhesitatingly recommended to lovers of Baroque music.