Concert Review

L'Ensemble Arion Conversations Galantes Couperin, Quentin, Rameau & Telemann. Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, 9 April 2000

The core musicians of this Canadian group have played together for nearly twenty years. It has explored widely the trio sonata repertoire and brought in other artists for particular events and recordings. Their programme in the South Bank's Early Music Series was of French chamber music of the early 18th Century, two of Jean-Phillipe Rameau's Pieces de clavecin en concert and, by the less-well known Jean-Baptiste Quentin (1718-50), a Trio Sonata Op 15/6 and a Sonate en quatuor Op 8/4. The Quatuors (with three melody voices) developed from the trio sonatas for two main voices. Quentin was a violinist with the Paris Opera and a prolific composer. Also included was one of Telemann's works in the French style, his Quatuor Parisien No 4 in nine short movements, character pieces with French titles.

This is an exceptionally fine and well-integrated group, the long experience together paying off in their obvious rapport and perfect ensemble. They had also solved all the balance problems. Claire Guimond's baroque flute is soft and sweet-toned, but never overwhelmed in this company. She delighted listeners as Couperin's Un rossignol en amour. Chantal Rémillard is a reliable baroque violinist, maintaining excellent intonation without the cushioning help of vibrato. Jay Bernfeld is their flamboyant viola da gambist, very sharp and a focus of attention. They seemed to have chosen music that gave him particular opportunities to shine. Hank Knox is their harpsichordist, a firm support when accompanying, and a dazzling soloist when given the opportunity to lead. Throughout it was indeed a civilised conversation, with the listening, give and take which is the model for this tasteful, elegant and lively, yet disciplined, music. I look forward to reviewing some of L'Ensemble Arion's CDs in the near future.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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