Thursday, August 13, 2015

ABS: Versailles & The Parisian Baroque

Last Friday evening the American Bach Soloists held the 1st concert of their summer Festival & Academy, which runs at the SF Conservatory of Music through August 16th. The event opened Bayreuth-style, with a trumpet fanfare proclaimed from the topmost level of the lobby 15 minutes before the performance. In keeping with this year's theme, the program consisted of dance suites by 3 composers of the French high Baroque.

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas briefly introduced the scenario of Jean-Féry Rebel's Les Élémens, which depicts nothing less than the emergence of the universe. Maestro Thomas had the string section play the motives representing water, air, fire & earth so that we could recognize them later. The piece begins with a shockingly dissonant chord, which sounds nothing like the 18th century, though the rest of the music was conventional.

The orchestra of about 25 gave a flawless, well-prepared performance which could go straight to CD. The violins' phrasing was precise & emphatic. The woodwinds sounded lovely. The flute & piccolo were clean, woody & never breathy.  I enjoyed the oboe solos, which were consistently smooth, clear & even. The bassoons had a distinctive, mellow sound that was less flatulant than their modern equivalent. The brass instruments blended nicely, & the orchestral balances seemed right. There were more fine woodwind solos, especially from the oboe, in the suite by Aubert, & the violins played rapid 16th note passages with impressive synchronization. Maestro Thomas was a calm conductor. He led with small, undemonstrative gestures, & tempos were straight & unrushed.

The program concluded with a selection of instrumental numbers from Rameau's opera Naïs. Rameau's colorful & inventive music stood out from the courtly pieces in the 1st half. The strings were gently heaving in the Sarabande, & Maestro Thomas gave the Gavotte pour les Zéphirs a nice, airy feeling. It was fun hearing the tambourine & the vigorous chordal flourishes from the strings. ABS audiences are dedicated, & they were attentive throughout, though I couldn't tell if the man in the row in front of me was headbanging to Rameau or just repeatedly nodding off.

§ Versailles & The Parisian Baroque - Part I
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Lobby music:
Concert de trompettes pour les festes sur le canal de Versailles
Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726)

Les Élémens, Symphonie Nouvelle
Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747)

Concert de symphonies, Suite II in D Major, Op. 9, no. 2
Jacques Aubert le Vieux (1689-1753)

Ouverture & Suite from Naïs, Opéra pour la Paix
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)

2015 American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy
Friday August 7 2015, 8p
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

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