Les Ambassadeurs / Alexis Kossenko (above)
Les Ambassadeurs (Lina Tur Bonet, Stefano Rossi (violins), Tormod Dalen (cello), Allan Rasmussen (harpsichord) / Alexis Kossenko (flute, director)
Wigmore Hall, London, 20 June 2016
written by Ben Hogwood
Audio (open in a new window)
Available until 20 July
What’s the music?
Blavet Flute Concerto in A minor (1745) (14 minutes)
Pisendel Sonata in D for violin and basso continuo (c1717) (11 minutes)
Leo Flute Concerto in G (unknown) (8 minutes)
Leclair Ouverture No 3 in A major, Op 13 No 5 (1746) (4 minutes)
Vivaldi Recorder Concerto in A minor, RV108 (1724) (7 minutes)
Les Ambassadeurs have not recorded this music, but the Spotify playlist below gives a guide to other versions in the event you are unable to get the broadcast link to work:
About the music
It is more than possible that you will only have heard of one of the five composers in this concert, which also presented Les Ambassadeurs in their first visit to the Wigmore Hall. The ensemble is normally around fifteen strong, though to fit the confines of the venue here it was scaled down to five.
Les Ambassadeurs is modelled on the Dresden Hofkapelle, an orchestra in Bach’s time that was regarded as one of the best in Europe. The music they choose comes from the 18th century, naturally, but here presents contemporaries who are not often heard.
Michel Blavet (1700-1768) was a French flautist and composer, and a prominent part of Les Concerts Spirituel in Paris. His Flute Concerto of 1745 was rediscovered in 1954.
Meanwhile the Italian composer Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) was a prolific composer for the stage, but wrote in particular for cello and flute. This concerto appears to be a recent discovery.
Composer-violinist Leclair (1697-1764) appears with an overture intended for his only opera Scylla et Glaucus, while Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755), an employee of the Saxon court in Dresden, wrote his Violin Sonata in an Italian style, bringing to mind the compositions of Vivaldi.
Speaking of which, the concert concludes with one of Vivaldi’s many concerti for flute / recorder and strings. This one was composed at a time when the composer was often away from Venice, but sent scores by post for his pupils to play.
A series of excellent performances gave a valuable insight into a corner of the eighteenth century not often visited in concert.
Alexis Kossenko led his charges with great enthusiasm, and the planning of the concert was ideal to give a contrast between the works for flute and recorder and those smaller scale pieces for violin – brilliantly played by Lina Tur Bonet.
The works of Blavet, Pisendel and Leo stood up well in comparison to their more illustrious contemporaries, with lively introductions from the strings in the flute concertos, setting the tone for some considerable virtuosity from Kossenko.
What should I listen out for?
5:46 – the strings begin with a purposeful tune, the start of a lively Allegro. They are joined by the flute at 6:32. The flute is then the dominant character in proceedings, which includes quite a substantial development of the first tune. At 10:43 we hear the flute alone in a showy cadenza, over a single held note from the other players, before they wrap up the movement.
11:39 – Blavet stays in the key of A minor for his slow movement, a solemn piece of music – but then there is a switch to A major at 13:07, and a lighter outlook. Then at 14:16 the harmonies turn once more to the minor key, though there is now a more positive feel to the music.
15:07 – the strings begin with some brisk music, and you might hear the slap of bow on string as they strive for maximum thrust. The flute joins at 15:49 with a similar sense of purpose. At 16:35 there is a flashy cadenza, but then at 18:12 and 19:02 we hear it in some very difficult music, taking the solo role to extremes.
20:45 – the ‘basso continuo’ (cello and harpsichord) set out a bright opening to which the violin quickly responds, before taking the lead in light hearted dialogue. Then at 22:00 the harmonies open out into more complex areas and the solo violin is given a really testing workout. Eventually Pisendel works his way back to the original key.
24:19 – a slow second movement, still in the original key of D major, but making moves towards the minor key a lot, giving the harmonies more colour in music of greater strife.
27:40 – back to the major key for the third movement, where the violin has a free standing part over the continuo, which anchors the music. From 30:30 Pisendel makes greater demands on his soloist, with rapid string crossing. There is a false end at 31:42, then a proper finish a couple of seconds later.
33:16 – the strings start off with a perky theme, setting out the main melodies and figures before the flute joins them at 33:57. Before long Leo is asking a lot of the flute, with some breathless phrases before we hear the strings’ theme again at 35:28, now in the key of E minor – the closest ‘relative’ to the work’s home key of G.
37:21 – for the slow movement Leo moves back to the ‘relative’ minor for a slow dance, gracefully introduced by the violins before handing over to the flute at 38:01.
41:23 – after the relative anguish of the slow movement the breezy finale is a nice contrast, the violins flourishing with their tunes, complemented by the flute from 41:58.
45:54 – a series of rapidly ascending scales on the cello and violin form the basis of the musical material for this characterful overture. It is a lively, bright piece of music.
51:16 – Vivaldi gets straight down to business in this piece, with no way of introduction – the strings and recorder are straight in together with some quick exchanges. From 53:30 the recorder has a tricky, virtuosic passage.
54:17 – slow, chugging violins over spread chords from the harpsichord set the scene, after which the recorder comes in with longer phrases.
56:44 – a triple time dance, led by the recorder with enthusiastic support from the strings.
As a complement to this concert, here is a link to Les Ambassadeurs in accompaniment to the soprano Sabine Devieilhe, in an enticing album of vocal works by Rameau: