Press for L'Académie du Roi Soleil
“…we had just witnessed the unleashing of an awesome elemental force.”
“Violinist Cynthia Black and viola da gamba player Gail Anne Schroeder began the afternoon with Rebel's Violin Sonata No. 5. One of Louis XIV's "24 violons du Roi," Rebel came across as a blithe spirit in my first brush with the composer's work. Especially in the third Viste movement, Rebel offered Black ample opportunities to impress with her vitality and virtuosity. In the opening movement, where Viste was just the first of three tempo markings – with a middle Grave section providing contrast – Black displayed the richness of her tone almost immediately. Nor was there any inwardness or solemnity in the Sarabande that followed, where the trio's sound remained sweet instead of sad.
Without needing to revert to her narrative role, without a particle of self-pity, and with the support of demons that Médée rabidly summons from hell, Haigh could be even more manic and powerful. Haigh seemed to revel in the give-and-take, the tender moments of fond memories giving way to fury, resolve, and exultation. Clérambault's score also gave the musicians greater latitude to vent their energies. Before Médée called upon the demon jealousy, "Cruelle fille des enfers” (Cruel daughter of hell), Nicolas Haigh pounded a march-like intro on the keyboard, so when Margaret Haigh sang out, casting her spell, it was like Médée was giving the demons their marching orders. There would be no neat moralizing here. After a recitative confirming that Médée's father, the sun god Helios, had favored her cause, Black's violin feverishly cued the "Volés, Démons, volés!" (Fly, demons, fly!) finale. Haigh sounded fully aware that she didn't need to save herself for anything afterwards, and this was one of those times when Tate Hall couldn't contain the power of her voice. Even when she was done venting and raging, the fury of Médée's vengeful wickedness continued in Black's violin, leaving us with the feeling that we had just witnessed the unleashing of an awesome elemental force.
“...as sweet and loving a Valentine's Day gift as anyone could ask for.”
Soprano Margaret Carpenter Haigh delivered these verses with expressive power, exquisite diction, and a clear, flexible voice that filled the Covenant’s large nave. Carpenter Haigh, who sings with such groups as Quire Cleveland and Apollo’s Fire and is pursuing a doctorate in Historical Performance Practice at Case Western Reserve University, skillfully negotiated the rhythms of Couperin’s lush ornamentation as well as adding flourishes and ornaments of her own. She showed a particular sensitivity to Couperin’s intricate textsettings and fastchanging harmonies.
Carpenter Haigh was accompanied by a continuo duo of organist Nicolas Haigh and cellist David Ellis. The Newberry Organ’s ample organ loft, at the rear of the nave, afforded the singer and continuo players excellent sight lines: the ensemble was beautifully coordinated.
"The entire ensemble played with precision, appropriately alternating between fiery intensity and limpid sweetness as demanded by the music."
Recitals of French baroque music are rare enough in Nashville – although there was one on the very same stage last winter, I heard – and it was a delight to hear a program of this particularly demanding style performed with such accuracy and passion.
Soprano Margaret Carpenter sang on the opening and closing selections by Charpentier and Clérambault, framing the violin sonata by Rébel and the Couperin. Margaret’s delivery is dramatic and her use of dynamics is astounding – so much of the time I did not feel like she was being accompanied by the instrumentalists but rather used her voice in the manner of a fine chamber musician, holding back when the melodic lines of primary interest were given to the strings and holding forth when it was her turn to be in the spotlight. Margaret’s interpretation is apparently informed by baroque gesture as well, and she makes use of hand and body postures to underscore the text.
The entire ensemble played with precision, appropriately alternating between fiery intensity and limpid sweetness as demanded by the music.
"...fiery, wild, and dangerous."
[Courbois'] Ariane is a perfect platform for Carpenter's strong and beautiful voice. She's powerful without ever being screechy, fluid but extremely precise. In the recit "Mais l'amour," her voice is echoed by the flute so closely that effect is uncanny. Particularly in the “Air Dieu des mers,” Couperin writes lifelike program music with a vocal line, a vocal line which Carpenter executed to perfection. The Gavotte, with soprano, from Lully's trios, was simple, delicate, and lovely. The whole ensemble worked carefully with each other to ensure perfect balance and intonation.
...the second half of the concert was Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre's Le Sommeil d'Ulisse from her ca. 1715 Cantates françoises. The first recit, "Apres mille," was singing speech at its best; the "Tempeste,' both in its playing and its singing, was fiery, wild, and dangerous. The "Air Venez Minerve" gave Carpenter some notable coloratura work on “Volez, volez,” at the end. The "Sommeil" was the high point of the piece – Haigh's playing was precise and stylish, using the harpsichord buff stop. Carpenter's voice and Troxler's flute blended together perfectly. Troxler breathed complete vocal life into her flute. Carpenter's sustained notes were effortless and unforced.
“...a man afire..."
Margaret Carpenter really put both works across. Her performance was like listening to a fine actress from the Comedie Français exploiting her plosive “p’s,” rolling “r’s” with venom, and making fine fretwork of her fricatives. Her intonation was secure, her coloratura agile and expressive. Her performance had something of the pleasure of seeing the varnish of centuries removed from a painting hither-to perceived as dull, which instead turns out to have bright colors and a breathing presence.