Arts & Events

Music of Versailles at St. Mark’s Church in Berkeley

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 06, 2015 - 03:29:00 PM

In a program of French Baroque music, the local group Musa performed on Friday, October 30, in the series of Barefoot Chamber Concerts held in the Parish Hall of St. Mark’s Church in Berkeley. Following in the wake of American Bach Soloists’ mini-festival in August devoted to music of the court of Versailles, Musa tapped into the same repertoire featuring works by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Féry Rebel, Jacques Morel, and Jacques Duphly, all of whom were centered at Versailles during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV. Musa features Gretchen Claussen on viola da gamba and cello, Noémy Gagnon-Lafrenais on violin, Addi Liu on violin, Kim Mai Nguyen on viola, Frédéric Rosselet on cello, Derek Tam on harpsichord, and Anna Washburn on violin. 

Musa opened the program with Concert V from Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concerts, transcribed for sextet. This work began with an up-tempo movement, followed by a slow movement in which the violins and viola embroidered a melody over a basso continuo from the cellos, and culminated in a fast movement full of brio. Next on the program was a work by Jacques Morel, (fl. 1700-1749), a Chaconne en trio which featured Derek Tam on harpsichord, Gretchen Claussen on viola da gamba, and Addi Liu on violin. Following Morel’s Chaconne were two short works for harpsichord by Jacques Duphly (1715-1789). As played by Derek Tam, Les Graces offered shimmering textures, while La Félix evoked the image of a man striding purposefully forward, with the music almost galumphing along.  

The highlight of the program was Jean-Fery Rebel’s Le Tombeau de M. Lully,” a piece dedicated to the memory of the great Jean-Baptiste Lully, who presided over all musical affairs at the court of Louis XIV at Versailles from 1662 till his death in 1687. The final movement of this work, Les Regrets, offered a somber but beautiful tribute to Lully. To round out this concert, Musa performed Rameau’s Concert IV, from Pièces de clavecin en concerts, transcribed for sextet.  

A word must be said about the musicians comprising Musa. Violinist Noémy Gagnon-Lafrenais is a tall, lanky young woman with an energetic style of playing. She often bends deeply at the knees, then suddenly swoops to her full height on her toes. This gives her the air of a country fiddler hopping about as if inviting the villagers to dance. This is done gracefully, one might even say, charmingly, so it is not obtrusive, although it is quite noticeable. By contrast, Addi Liu, who sometimes alternates with Noémy Gagnon-Lafrenais as lead violin, plays in a totally reserved manner, as do all the other members of Musa. As a group, Musa deserves credit for bringing us more of the wonderful music of the French Baroque.