Review Experiment: Les Talens Lyriques at the Wigmore Hall
The offer of two review tickets for acclaimed ensemble Les Talens Lyriques's concert at London's Wigmore Hall on April 9th proved a perfect opportunity to try out a new review idea. We sent two musicians with very different musical backgrounds to the same concert, and decided to publish their impressions of the same event side by side in a patchwork version of the review made by editor Fatima Lahham. You can read the results of this experiment here...
Swedish Johan Löfving is an exciting young guitarist and theorbo player who studied at the Royal College of Music in London and the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. He has performed at venues including the Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, The Sage Gateshead, Wiener Saal Salzburg, and the Konzertsaal MuTh in Vienna. Johan performs a wide range of repertoire, from renaissance and baroque music to early nineteenth-century works with Flauguissimo (a duo with flautist Yu-Wei Hu) to new works that you can read more about here.
Alice Ahearn is a London-based classicist and time-pressed musician and violinist with a particular focus on folk music. Her interests include classical reception studies, epic poetry, Bach partitas, leaf tea, Shostakovich, and owls. When she isn’t getting lost on the Underground or trying to knit her way to a better life, she has an intermittent fantasy fiction-writing habit, and maintains an even more intermittent blog.
JL: Vibrant, joyous playing from French harpsichordist Christophe Rousset and his band Les Talens Lyriques created a truly wonderful programme of baroque favorites by Leclair, Rameau, and J. S. Bach.
AA: It’s a thoughtfully structured programme, progressing from mannered German emulations of French dance suites through to French baroque proper. The first half consists of J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C, followed by his Concerto No. 8 in D minor – sometimes scored as an oboe concerto, constructed from a patchwork of several related fragments, but here performed less speculatively as a two-movement concerto for harpsichord. In the second half, the repertoire develops towards the more daring end of the baroque: Leclair’s Flute Concerto in C, and Rameau’s Orchestral Suite from his opera ‘Castor et Pollux’.
JL: From the very ‘Ouverture’ of Bach's first orchestral suite (BWV 1066), I was invited into the sound world that would dominate the whole concert: majestic dotted rhythms, brisk tempi and wonderful textual clarity. While I personally missed some more daring dynamic nuances in the dances, they were nevertheless full of vitality and offered moments of extraordinary beauty, such as the magically transparent yet lush string playing in the second Menuet. As Mr Rousset turned from conductor to soloist for Bach’s Concerto in D minor, BWV 1059, we were once again offered a rhythmically vibrant performance. My only regret was that of not including the famous second movement - the programme notes made it clear that Rousset for reasons of authenticity only performs the two outer movements with a short cadenza in between.
AA: At all times the overwhelming sense was of the wonderful richness of the strings, produced by musicians who are thoroughly at home on gut-stringed instruments, and matched by the mellow timbre of the woodwinds. Christophe Rousset’s harpsichord scintillated across the top of the sound, completing the full-bodied orchestral tone. As an ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques are in general flawlessly tight: always a more impressive feat when led as they are from the harpsichord. Moments of dialogue – between orchestra and solo flute in the Rameau, and between soloist and continuo in the harpsichord concerto – were impeccably timed and balanced. Tempos always felt well-judged: lively or stately as the mood of each piece demanded.
JL: After the interval (and distanced from Bach’s ghost!), it was as though the band climbed to a new level of vivacity - less refined perhaps but with greater dynamic intensity.
AA: Only occasionally did the sense of ensemble stumble: the very fastest tempos had a slight tendency to run away with themselves; woodwind players tested by long semiquaver runs didn’t always make it to the ends of phrases together; final notes occasionally seemed to have been found by accident, rather than carefully placed. A significant contributing factor to this may have been the space itself: the splendid acoustic created by the Wigmore Hall cupola seemed to direct more of the harpsichord’s sound towards the audience than did the instrument’s own lid, which ironically was attached only for the harpsichord concerto. As a result, Rousset’s performance was less audible for not only the audience but possibly also the other musicians. It may have been this that caused some of the issues with timing, togetherness, and sound balance during this piece.
JL: Flute soloist Jocelyn Daubigney (who charmingly tried to find his glasses during the opening ritornello!) accepted a genuine invitation to join the musical dialogue which he did with bravura. His sensitive playing in the slow movement of Leclair’s concerto made it a strong contender for the highlight of the whole concert! Here I also got more of Rousset’s sensitive harpsichord playing, resulting in a flute and harpsichord dialogue of great sensuality. Finally, the suite from Rameau’s ‘Castor et Pollux’ was filled with dances and airs in the most French of styles. The ensemble played with wonderful contrasts and liveliness, the passepieds being especially full of character.
AA: Jocelyn Daubigney gave an interpretation of Leclair’s flute concerto that was surprisingly liberal with ornamentation and rubato, yet never felt heavy-handed or indulgent, thanks to the nimbleness of his playing. Rousset himself is undoubtedly an expert performer too.
JL: The audience applauded the evening with great enthusiasm and we were given one final chaconne as encore, to the evident delight of the audience.
AA: Overall: a thoroughly refreshing two hours of baroque repertoire, and one with a clear sense of development. The Wigmore Hall resounded with the enthusiastic applause of an audience that had not only been entertained, but might have learned something too.
JL: This was baroque music as it should be, full of life and affection. While in places I may have wished for even more of these ingredients, I am very grateful that Les Talens Lyriques made my first review a joy to write and a wonderful evening to remember.