A baroque murder mystery
June 8, 2015, 4:30 pm, First Lutheran Church of Boston
Infusion Baroque is a group of four poised and elegant
musicians based in Montreal who play baroque trio sonatas on
violin and flute with harpsichord and cello continuo. They were the winners of
the Grand Prize and the Audience Prize at the 2014 Early Music
America Baroque Performance Competition.
This concert featured two sonatas by Jean Marie Leclair (1697
– 1764) and one by his rival, Jean-Pierre Guignon (1702 – 1774).
This reviewer was not able to tell that one composer was superior
to the other — apparently neither was the employer who offered
them both jobs in the Royal Orchestra, and allowed them to share
the first chair on a month-by-month basis. One clue to Leclair’s
personality was that he accepted the job, played first chair for
the first month, and then quit rather than play second chair for
the second month. The program notes and the dramatization both
offered this anecdote as evidence that he may have been a
“difficult” person to work with.
Unlike much earlier baroque music, this was music written for
the Concerts Spirituelle, one of the first public concert series
in existence. It was inaugurated in 1725 to provide entertainment
on religious holidays when the theater and opera were closed as
too worldly for the occasion. In Leclair’s time they took place
in the Tuileries Palace, and included a mix of sacred choral works and virtuosic instrumental pieces.
Keeping the audience interested for an entire concert of only
one instrumentation and style is problematic, and there were
several strategies employed by the ensemble to do this. For one
thing, they play extremely well; their ensemble is impeccable, and
they have an evident love for the music they play. And of course
each sonata has movements in several moods, ably conveyed by the
performers in this case. I especially liked the humor of the
Badinage movement and the celebratory dancing of
the Tambourin movement (which concluded the
program) of the Deuxieme récréation de musique, and
the calm flowing of the Adagio of the G major sonata.
The composers themselves seem to have considered this problem,
and without introducing new instruments, they did bargain-basement
“Instrumentation” changes: the Aria Gratioso of the
Leclair sonata in G minor had the two solo instruments playing
without the continuo, and the Paisane lourdement
movement of the Guignon Sonata in A minor has the two solo
instruments playing in unison.
Most strikingly, they performed a little play in between pieces
dramatizing the police investigation into the murder of Leclair.
He was found stabbed to death in the entryway to his house. The
play has the police inspector interviewing the mercenary gardener, the
estranged wife, and the aggrieved nephew. Before the final piece,
they asked the audience to vote on which “suspect” they believed
committed the murder. (A large majority of the BEMF audience
voted for the nephew.)
I wouldn’t say the play was a great success as theater – while
I’d be happy to hear this group play more music, I don’t know that
I’d cross the street to hear them act another play without the
music. But I think it did successfully keep the audience more
involved in the performance.
Infusion Baroque has as one of its aims to draw a new audience
to early music by integrating chamber music performance and other
artistic media. They have performed with a live painter painting
stories from the lives of great composers, and to a slide show of
baroque visual art owned by Archangelo Corelli. This reviewer
wishes them every success with this endeavor.
- Alexa Raine-Wright, baroque flute and gardener.
- Sallynee Amawat, baroque violin and nephew.
- Camille Paquette-Roy, baroque cello and wife
- Rona Nadler, harpsichord, and inspector