Brandywine Baroque opened its 2016-17 season with a wonderfully planned concert of 17th and 18th Century French music. The program — titled “Shades of Love” — was brief in description but generous in its offerings, providing the perfect showcase for the talents of its five instrumentalists, two harpsichordists and soprano Laura Heimes. The music sampled various genres of Baroque instrumental and vocal music, offering a glimpse into the world of the underplayed but brilliant music of the French court.
The concert opened with Michel Pignolet de Monteclair’s chamber cantata Pan & Sirinx composed around 1716. The cantata relates the myth of Syrinx who, pursued by Pan, was turned into reeds by water nymphs. Pan, discovering the effect of his breath across the reeds, turned them into his flute.
Like many Baroque vocal works, the cantata alternates between reflective arias and narrative recitatives. Heimes delivered the arias effortlessly and exquisitely, allowing the melody to flow its course without hindrance. Her soprano gleamed in the recitatives, coaxing just enough reverberation from The Barn at Flintwoods. Flutist Eileen Grycky conveyed the instrumental effect of Pan’s pursuit in the final three sections of the cantata, her playing augmenting the ensemble in timbre and depth.
Grycky was equally effective soloing in the Sonata Op.2, No. 5 in G Major by Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764), one of the sonatas for which the composer offered the choice of violin or flute. Her warm burnished tones shape the exquisite phrasing of the slow movements yet convey the Italian-inspired fire and energy in the fast.
Leclair’s Eighth Sonata engages the violin (Edwin Huizinga) and viola da gamba (Donna Fournier) in polite dialogue that becomes more animated with chains of trills in the Finale.
Huizinga captured the joyfulness of Sonata Op. 12, No. 6 in C Major by Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705-1770) with the pure, expressive tone of his violin, while Grycky’s flute perked up the entire ensemble, especially when she had rising figures to play.
Gambists Fournier and John Mark Rozendaal explored the changing textures and rhythms of Les batteries by Jean de Sainte-Colombe (fl. 1658-87- c.1701). The two returned after intermission with an exquisite yet deliberate rendering of the quirky but beautiful L’Arabesque by Marin Marais (1656-1728).
The second half of the program featured two main works: Pieces in F by Louis Couperin (1626-1661) and Orphee, a cantata by Louis-Nicolas Clerembault (1676-1728).
The harpsichord is a mesmerizing instrument in the hands of the right artist, and Brandywine Baroque Founding Artistic Director Karen Flint is one of those artists. It was a genuine pleasure to hear Couperin’s F Major played with dignity and clarity and expression. This was a performance to remember.
Heimes returned to conclude the concert with a performance of Orphee. This retelling of the Orpheus legend with a happy ending is replete with gorgeous melodies and embellishments which made it a superb showcase for Heimes’s wide vocal range and dramatic talent. A nice way to end an engaging concert!