GLI ANGELI GENEVE at the Utrecht Early Music Festival

Gli Angeli Genève is a Swiss soloist ensemble founded in 2005 by Stephan MacLeod, consisting of musicians who lead active performing careers within the field of historical performance (although not exclusively).

In 2018, the ensemble will be touring Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands where they are taking part in the annual early music festival here in Utrecht.

Tonight’s concert was the ensembles first performance of the festival, consisting of works by Jean-Philippe Rameau and the world premiere of a Cantatille by his brother, Claude-Bernard. Despite the popularity of Jean-Philippe, relatively little is known about his brother – although many documents begin to highlight the eccentricity of Claude.  In 1752, after an anonymous critic printed a prospectus disapproving of Jean-Philippes theories, Claude fiercely defended his brothers’ reputation, publishing a letter in response. Due to a less than successful career, the Cantatille, dedicated to Jean-Philippe, is the only printed composition of Claude-Bernard Ramaeu.

The concert opened with the Cantatille for harpsichord, viola da gamba, violin and (bass) voice. It was clear from the beginning that the ensemble was well matched and comfortable – the intimate hall and relaxed approach putting the audience at ease, creating a semi-casual platform for the concert to begin.

The concert opened with a certain strength and directness, an immediate involvement which caught the attention of the audience. With the harpsichord and viola da gamba creating a supportive backdrop from the very beginning, it was nice to hear such a full and liquid bass (which was further supported by the particularly fluid quality of this harpsichord). Once joined by voice, the ensemble unified, producing a well-blended and full sound. The ensemble succeeded in telling a story and, without previous knowledge of the work, I found the narrative easy to follow.

Following from this, we were introduced to the soprano voice. At first, there seemed to be less cohesion across the group and perhaps a slight disagreement in regards to the tempo. This did settle quickly, without detracting from the larger picture, and the performance became increasingly enjoyable. The instrumental commentary was observed with subtlety and character; the performers demonstrating a high sensitivity to the vocal line. Despite there being no major balance issues (and the balance was generally extremely successful), there were a few moments in which the lower registers of the voice became slightly lost in the texture.

The bass returned for the next item of the program, and immediately grabbed the attention of the audience. With subtle shapes being passed effortlessly between parts, phrases were carried out (and finished) with intention and commitment. The music itself brought the audience on a journey, growing into itself without over involvement from the musicians. This created a great deal of movement and growth, holding our attention throughout. During the slower material that followed, the harpsichord seemed to melt into the string sound, the ensemble was extremely well balanced here and each sound was given plenty of space to be heard.

Next came what was arguably the most intimate moment of the concert tonight – the Allemande in A from Pièces de Clavecin Livre I. Maude Gratton played with beauty and sincerity, creating a bubble of sound which was impossible to resist. Demanding our full attention, the otherworldly sound of the harpsichord was allowed to speak and it was refreshing to hear a performance that wasn’t overcomplicated by the performer. It was a shame that the audience didn’t respond (missing the applause between pieces – perhaps due to the lack of program) and because of this, the transition into the next item felt slightly awkward.

The concert ended with another cantata, brimming with personality and humour. The story was conveyed effortlessly and the level of involvement from each performer was tremendous and sincere.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable performance, epitomising the beauty and ease of early music. Over the coming days, as the festival continues, we can hope to expect many more enjoyable concerts.  Rebecca Jansen  26th August 2018

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