Wigmore Mondays – Les Ambassadeurs

les-ambassadeurs

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)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07gnc3g

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)

Spotify

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.

Performance verdict

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?

Blavet

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.

Pisendel

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.

Leo

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.

Leclair

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.

Vivaldi

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.

Further listening

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:

Wigmore Mondays – Gli Incogniti and Amandine Beyer play Vivaldi

gli-incogniti-clara-honorato

Gli Incogniti / Amandine Beyer (above, photo Clara Honorato)

Wigmore Hall, London, 13 June 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07f6nvn

Available until 12 July

What’s the music?

Vivaldi Sinfonia from L’Olimpiade, RV725 (1733) (6 minutes)

Violin Concerto in F, RV282 () (11 minutes)

Violin Concerto in G minor, RV322 (1728) (10 minutes)

Concerto in G for violin ‘in tromba marina’, RV313 () (7 minutes)

Ballo Primo from Arsilda, regina di Ponto, RV700, & Giga, RV316 (1716) (4 minutes)

Violin Concerto in D, RV228 (c1720-30) (9 minutes)

Spotify

In case you cannot hear the broadcast, Gli Incogniti have recorded all the Vivaldi music played in this concert, and it can be heard here:

About the music

Vivaldi wrote a vast amount of music, a lot of it functional. Yet through the duty of being a court composer there was always the spirit of invention in his music, especially when certain restrictions were imposed, such as for the concerto written for a violin ‘in tromba marina’, where Amandine Beyer plays an instrument where she has virtually destroyed the bridge to give an unusually distorted sound.

The G minor violin concerto, RV322, has been reconstructed by Beyer herself, while the Ballo Primo and Giga is a nice combination of three movements that effectively make up a concerto. The third of these is actually by Bach, but based on a work of Vivaldi.

Finally the group and Beyer play one of the composer’s ‘Dresden’ concertos, which Vivaldi wrote for the Dresden Hofkapelle, whose army of forty or more players made it one of the largest orchestras at the time.

Performance verdict

Gli Incogniti exhibit pure enjoyment when they play the music of Vivaldi, and the concert here was full of the enthusiasm they bring to his music. Because of this there was plenty of energy on display, with the solo violinist and conductor Amandine Beyer responsible for some gravity defying solo virtuosity.

She also had to battle against the elements, for her instruments seemed determine to go out of tune – a hazard for all period instrument groups – but she battled with the elements with impressive ease.

What should I listen out for?

Sinfonia

1:38 – the Sinfonia starts like the wind in the branches of a tree, with repeated notes (tremolandi) on the strings creating momentum. The music is lively and quite ceremonial.

3:49 – for the bittersweet slow movement Vivaldi turns to a minor key, and the violins take a reflective tone.

6:25 – a perky fast movement to complete a typical three-movement format. The lower parts are much more active than the upper this time.

Violin Concerto in F major RV282

8:37 – quite a cheeky start to the first movement concerto, with a breezy main theme. Eventually the music winds up so the soloist can show their mettle, and the violin’s bright tone dominates proceedings from here on.

13:12 – as is customary for a concerto in a major key (F major in this case) Vivaldi uses what is known as the ‘relative minor’, that is the minor key closest related to F major – which is D minor. It is suited for the sombre and relatively stern mood that the music takes. Again the violin leads proceedings.

15:28 – the carefree mood is resumed with another bright and breezy tune from the strings, the violin taking over at 16:07.

Violin Concerto in G minor, RV322

20:28 – the serious tones of the opening lessen a little as the music becomes more energetic, but there is still a darker atmosphere around this music. The violin takes over early on, and you may be able to hear the metallic glint of the harpsichord behind it.

24:49 – staying in G minor, Vivaldi slows the tempo almost to a complete stop. This is an especially poignant movement, the textures quite sparse with a searching melody given to the solo violinist.

27:47 – the third movement feels like a statement of defiance after the sorrow of the slow movement. It has the characteristic Vivaldi energy, whether in the bold strings or the tricky solo part. It ends with impressive gusto.

Concerto in G for violin ‘in tromba marina’, RV313

The violin for this has been adapted by Amandine Beyer so that it rattles when she plays the strings, so it might sound a bit unconventional!

32:07 – the rasp of Beyer’s instrument can be heard as part of the powerful thrust that begins this piece. At times the distortion sounds almost electronic, but is put in context by the steady accompaniment by bass section and harpsichord.

34:50 – a rather beautiful but stark tone from Beyer’s instrument as the music moves into the slow movement.

37:05 – a vigorous, scrubbing motion brings in the music of the third movement, after which we hear Beyer in a solo capacity again, with what sounds like some really tricky passage work!

Ballo Primo and Giga

41:15 – quite a gentle, lilting piece of dance music in triple time, with an attractive colour to the violins.

43:08 – staying in triple time, the next movement is a quicker one, harder on the hips I suspect!

44:07 – the tempo is even faster for the ‘giga’, the violins playing a distinctive three-note motif that takes over the whole dance.

Violin Concerto in D major RV228

47:20 – a brisk theme begins the violin concerto with a sense of purpose on the part of the ensemble, which the solo violin takes up at 47:48.

50:13 – the textures change for the slow movement, as the violins adopt use plucking in the background. The soloist becomes really elaborate in her playing, with some emotive trills and turns to the melody, complemented by some colourful harmonies from the cello and harpsichord. This all takes place in B minor, the ‘relative’ minor key of the concerto’s key of D major.

52:21 – a rush of melodies from the violins return the mood back to one of optimism. There is a highly virtuosic cadenza for the soloist from 54:40.

Encore

58:45 – as fresh as a spring day, this encore (the slow movement from a Violin Concerto in B flat major, RV372a) again uses plucked violins before the solo violin arrives with an expressive and endearing simple melody over the top.

Further listening

As a complement to their Vivaldi, here is another album from Gli Incogniti and Amandine Beyer, concentrating on his French contemporary François Couperin: