Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques are increasingly frequent visitors to London’s concert halls, bringing with them gems of the French Baroque. For their latest outing at the Wigmore Hall, Rousset and his orchestral ensemble presented that peculiar genre of the grand siècle, the Apothéose.
During the endless bickering amongst commentators over the competing merits of French and Italian music in the reign of Louis XIV and beyond, it fell to François Couperin (1668-1733) to try to build bridges and persuade audiences of the desirability of fusing the two rival styles. His Apotheosis of Corelli of 1724 was his first attempt at this. More than a little tongue-in-cheek, the seven-movement work imagines the great Arcangelo Corelli (who had died over a decade earlier) being welcomed by Apollo and the muses on Mount Parnassus. Given their experience and knowledge of the music, Les Talens sounded a little uncertain during this performance. The occasional sour note and late entry on the violin seemed to unsettle the rest of the players, dulling some of the sunniness of this bright, engaging work.
Confidence and pace picked up during the second half of the concert, with a flawless and spirited rendition of Couperin’s 1725 Apotheosis of Lully. Twice as long as its predecessor and cast in 12 movements, this apotheosis sees the ascent of the father of French musical style taste, Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) – an Italian by birth – to Parnassus, where he is eventually welcomed by Corelli and the muses. The piece genuinely seeks to fuse the Italian and French styles, culminating in a movement which imagines Lully and Corelli respectively playing first and second violins before swapping roles. In this work the playing was as expert as one would expect, with some particularly good work coming from the small woodwind section. The dance movements were especially well played, with Rousset providing lively and engaged harpsichord accompaniment .
In between, the carefully crafted programme added further sonatas and trios by Couperin, Lully and Corelli. These included a surprisingly ornate trio by Lully to accompany the coucher of his royal master and principal patron, Louis XIV.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.