Arts & Events

A Concert by the Early Music Group LES DÉLICES

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday March 09, 2018 - 02:49:00 PM

Founded in 2009 by noted baroque oboist Debra Nagy, Les Délices specializes in long neglected works by lesser-known composers of the Baroque period. Les Délices is comprised of Debra Nagy on oboe, Julie Andrijeski and Adriane Post on violins, Emily Walhout on viola da gamba, and Mark Edwards on harpsichord. On the weekend of March 2-4, Les Délices presented concerts in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco. I attended the Saturday evening concert in Berkeley’s St. Mary Magdalen Church. 

Presented under the auspices of The San Francisco Early Music Society, the concert featured French music of the period 1730 to 1760, including several pieces by the great French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. The highlight of the concert was a piece entitled Les Sauvages/The Savages, which was written by Rameau after witnessing the ceremonial dancing of two Native Americans who were visiting Paris. Rameau’s lively tune became a smash hit at the French court. Originally composed as a keyboard solo, Rameau reused it in his ballet Les Indes galantes, and the tune was adapted by many other composers. The setting performed here by Les Délices was for two violins arranged by Jean-Pierre Guignan, who performed it with his colleague Mondonville at the Concert des Tuileries. As performed by Les Délices violinists Julie Andrijeski and Adriane Post, Les Sauvages was a brilliant piece brimming with lively rhythms. Of course, there is, shall we say, a savage irony in a tune entitled Les Sauvages/The Savages inspired by a Native American dance becoming a musical hit at the luxurious French court. Orientalism, anyone?  

The opening piece at this concert was Sinfonia 1 in G by François-André Philidor (1726-1795) from his work L’Art de la Modulation. As this piece begins, oboe and violin play in thirds, while chromatic inflections and melodic intervals abound. A fugue ensues, dubbed by Philidor L’Arte della Fuga, and this music too has chromatic inflections. Then follows a peaceful Pastorella, and the piece closes with a sparkling Gavotta. 

Next on the program was Sonata I in B minor from Conversations à trois by François Martin (1727-1757). This work was performed by violinists Adrijeski and Post, and viola da gambist Emily Walhout. François Martin’s Sonata I in B minor offers lively, almost conversational music, with all three instrumentalists chiming in sequentially on musical phrase endings. Following the Martin work was Sonata Seconda, Op. 2 by Michel Blavet (1700-1768). This piece from 1732 featured virtuoso playing by oboist Debra Nagy, including some scintillating trilling. Closing out the first half of the concert was Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Troisième Concert from Pièces de Clavecin en concert (1741). In this work Rameau recycled some of his popular airs from his own operas, namely, Dardanus (1739) and Castor et Pollux (1737).  

After intermission Les Délices returned to open the second half of the concert with excerpts from several Rameau operas, including Boréades, Fêtes de l’Hymen, and Dardanus. Les Délices performed their own adaptations of these selections from Rameau’s operas. Next came the aforementioned Les Sauvages by Rameau; and the concert then closed with Sinfonia 5 in C from Philidor’s L’Art de la Modulation. All in all, this was a thoroughly delightful concert performed with delicacy and finesse by early music group Les Délices.