Since its foundation in 2011,the international instrumental group Les Ambassadeurs has carved out a niche reputation with its recordings of the obscure end of the Baroque repertoire. This bijou lunchtime concert demonstrated just why they need to come onto the stage more often.
The group’s name is a reference to the itinerant Dresden Hofkapelle, Saxony’s court orchestra which toured much of Europe in the mid-eighteenth century, picking up the latest musical trends and learning its craft from some of the finest composers and instrumentalists of the day. This well-balanced programme, directed by Les Ambassadeurs’ founder and principal flute player Alexis Kossenko, reflected some of the Dresden players’ wanderings.
With the exception of Vivaldi and perhaps Leclair, none of the composers featured are well known. Michel Blavet was a French flautist who produced fine pieces for his instrument, and his Flute Concerto in A minor is a well-crafted work in the Franco-Italian ‘goût réunit’ style of the time. Its second movement included poised and wistful passages for flute and a pair of violins, while a break-neck finale recalled some of CPE Bach’s concertos, which Les Ambassadeurs and Kossenko have recorded.
Another comparative unknown is Johann Georg Pisendel, one of Dresden’s star violin players, who produced a number of Italian-flavoured works. His Violin Sonata in D gave the spotlight to the excellent Lina Tur Bonet who, with Allan Rasmussen and Tormod Dalen on harpsichord and cello continuo respectively, tackled the complex parts with precision and concentration. Neapolitan composer Leonardo Leo is becoming better known to audiences though his operatic works, but he also composed some instrumental pieces, including a fine Flute Concerto in D. Kossenko again beguiled the Wigmore Hall audience which, as during the Blavet concerto, held its breath in the hope that Kossenko’s own wouldn’t run out in the final extended, decorative conclusion.
After a short Ouverture by Jean-Marie Leclair in the typical ‘French’ style, Kossenko and his players moved on, as if by way of contrast, to a concerto by the Italian style master, Vivaldi. This time Kossenko swapped his transverse flute for a recorder in the Concerto in A minor, RV108. This was one of the Red Priest’s practice pieces for the girls at the Pietà – sent to them by post while he was off on another tour. Its academic purpose is audible in some of the technical try-outs, but it also has some wonderfully quirky touches and is coloured by the composer’s international outlook – not unlike the Ambassadeurs themselves.
The concert is available on the BBC iPlayer until 19 June and will be broadcast on Radio 3 on Sunday 26 June.