A Musical World That Never Was
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center
10/25/2017 - & October 29, 2017 (San Francisco)
“Le monde galant”:
André Campra: L’Europe galante: Ouverture
Michel-Richard de Lalande: Les Folies de Cardénio: Air de trompettes
Jean-Marie Leclair: Scylla et Glaucus: Forlane & Sicilienne
Christoph Willibald Gluck: Don Juan: Menuet
Michel-Richard de Lalande: Les Folies de Cardénio: Chaconne légère des Maures
Charles Avison: Concerto no. 6 in D Major, after a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti: Con furia
Georg Philip Telemann: L’Ecossoise
Neil Gow: Lament for the Death of his Second Wife
Georg Philip Telemann: L’Irelandoise
Georg Philip Telemann: Danses de Polonie: Dance – Concerto Polonois: Polonaise and dances – Dance – Overture-Suite in B-flat Major: Les Muscovites
Traditional: Two Hungarian Folk Songs
Georg Philipp Telemann: Les Janissaires – Mezzetin en turc
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto (“Il Grosso Mogul”), RV 208
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Indes galantes: Premier et Second Air pour Zéphire
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Paladins: Entrée des Chinois
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Indes galantes: Prélude; Air des Incas pour l’adoration du Soleil, Danse du grand Calumet de la paix & Chaconne
Alana Youssefian, Sarah Jane Kenner, Rachell Ellen Wong (Violins)
Juilliard415, Nicholas McGegan (Conductor)
N. McGegan & Juilliard415 (© Juilliard School)
Following the final note of a Rameau Chaconne, conductor Nicholas McGegan and the entire Juilliard 415 ensemble raised the flags of a dozen nations around the world, as well as the Gay Liberation banner. It was a fitting tribute to an early Baroque treatment and tribute to the world of the early 18th Century, warts and all.
True, much of this music was kitschy, ersatz, counterfeit, a Baron Münchhausen vision of a domain that never was. At the same time, it ennobled the European composers who saw a world far outside of themselves. Mind you, Johann Sebastian Bach was nowhere to be found here. He was too busy making Lutheran chorales and Bach babies to worry about the outside. But the mainly French composers here were already settling in the New World, importing wood and muskrat-tails, or buying South American gold from the Spanish conquerors.
Mind you, a lot of the music here was authentic. The Ottoman Janisseries were not only known, but were dreaded throughout Europe. Telemann’s picture was not as authentic as Beethoven’s later Turkish march in the D Minor Symphony, but Telemann was that rare voyager who actually did compose Polish dances and Russian exaggerations.
Rameau did see two Indians dancing in Paris (he composed “The Savage” for keyboard) but did attempt to write about the Incas smoking a peace pipe. And a real Scots composer, one Neil Gow wrote a real 18th Century lament “for the death of his second wife” which resembled many a Hibernian tune.
How did the Juilliard415, their early-music ensemble, handle this potpourri of excerpts and dances, marches and concertos? Initially, not up to their usual standard. Nicholas McGegan is always a welcome conductor here. But the affable leader, without a baton, simply didn’t get them in shape for the opening overture to L’Europe galante, from which their more liberal Le Monde Galant took its name. Some sloppiness from the orchestra, even slurs behind the fine trumpet playing of Federico Montes, whose Baroque trumpet glowed.
In fact, the Juilliard415 only came together for the frequent solos, which seemed to inspire them.
A wonderful oboe solo by Andrew Blanke, which was followed by one of the three great violin soloists here. I gather that First Chair Sarah Jane Kenner–who was not credited in the program–was the fireworks soloist in the Con furia movement from Charles Avison. That was taken from one of Scarlatti’s Spanish pieces (he had lived in Spain many years), and Avison made it fiery and furious. With her fearless playing, the Juilliard415 brightened up, giving her the appropriate background.
More subtle, and indeed more emotional in a subtle sense was Rachell Wong’s solo, with Arash Noori’s theorbo, of a lament by one Neil Gow. This was perhaps more “folkish” than the other works, and certainly more lachrymose. No fireworks here, and the Baroque violin hardly sounded as bright as our instruments. But it was played with such unerring beauty that one feels any Scotspeople would have tears in their eyes. Truly, even against the great playing by the third violin soloist, Ms. Wong’s playing was more memorable.
A. Youssefian (© Early Music America)
Still, the headlining soloist here, Alana Youssefian proved that she plays, performs and has the fingers to be a violin star. The Vivaldi concerto, celebrating a great Indian Moghul, was the showpiece incarnate, and Ms Youssefian showed it all.
Swaying, dancing, charming salutations to the violin section, she was a pyrotechnical giantess for the first movement. The slow section, with theorbo (did Vivaldi use that instrument in the original?) was gorgeous. As for the final Alllegro, I haven’t the slightest idea how long the original cadenza was. Ms. Youssefian turned her solo into the entire movement, demonstrating techniques which probably pre-dated Paganini but demonstrated her natural genius.
Conductor McGegan stood aside, allowed her to venture to fiddle countries unknown, and, after her final trill, led the last three measures with the ensemble.
The group had a long way to go with music from an artificial Persia (with a lovely zephyr solo by flutist Jonathan Slade), Rameau’s artificial China and an equally artificial Peru. Rameau again, of course, who enjoyed imagining countries of which he had no knowledge. Or little knowledge. When some South American cannibals had been brought to Rouen a century before, essayist Montaigne visited them, spoke with them, and discovered some interesting thoughts and minds. Rameau had seen some Indians dancing (in what sounded like an 18th Century freak show), he wrote music including an air to the sun and music accompanying the smoking of the peace pipe.
This was all quite hokey, but quite entertaining. And while the music was perhaps silly musicologically speaking, the Juilliard415 ensemble played it with all the vigor and verve magically provided to them by Chief Shaman McGegan.