tue 18/12/2018

theartsdesk at Itinéraire Baroque 2018 - canaries in front of a Périgord altar | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at Itinéraire Baroque 2018 - canaries in front of a Périgord altar

theartsdesk at Itinéraire Baroque 2018 - canaries in front of a Périgord altar

Distinguished Dordogne dweller Ton Koopman and friends meet in a Romanesque priory

Exuberant Spanish song and dance from XuriachAll performance images by Jean-Michel Bale

Brits are the folk you expect to encounter the most in the rural-England-on-steroids of the beautiful Dordogne. In my experience they outnumber the French, at least in high summer, not just as visitors and retired homeowners but also as artisans selling their wares in Riberac's big Friday market. The Dutch are here, too, in force, and one of the long-term settlers, big Baroque name Ton Koopman, makes his own major contribution in August along with music-loving local Robert-Nicolas Huet. Their base is the atmospheric tiny settlement of Cercles, a place that feels as much end-of-the-road in a good sense as any of those villages that nestle at the foot of Britain's South Downs.

Corbels at CouturesThe proper "itinéraire" of the festival is the Saturday pilgrimage, this year between five churches and a castle. A wedding of close friends in a very English church propelled me home that morning before I could savour the diverse delights; there was compensation in a concert-less tour of six other Romanesque beauties under the expert guidance of Gabriel Fysh, who also serves behind the bar in the food-and-drink-filled space in front of the Abbatiale Saint-Cybard de Cercles (pictured above: some of the corbels at the east end of the church at Coutures). 

I think I'm right in saying that there were no British players in any of the four Cercles specials I attended (and nothing from honorary Englishman Handel). The continental European mix was well represented, though, both in the programming and not least in the players of Koopman's Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra led in style by Rie Kimura (Catherine Manson was to be there for the last night). Not much great music was on the programme of the "Ouverture" on Thursday night, but the soloists were choice: Antoine Torunczyk on oboe d'amore for a Telemann Concerto; Simen van Mechelen resplendent on the sackbut, trombone forerunner, in Albrechtsberger; and Ernest Schadler and Markus Springer in Werner and the most individual concerto on the programme, Telemann's spotlighting two chalumeaux, ancestors of the clarinet.L'Astree at the Itineraire Baroque In such company, Bach's only religious cantata for tenor, "Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht", darkly shone, the words well pointed by Tilman Lichdi, though his support wasn't always ideal. There was greater vocal distinction the following morning from soprano Julia Wischniewski, part of the otherwise Italian ensemble L'Astrée in an all-Vivaldi programme (pictured above). The scholarly aspect was in resources from the National Library of Turin University, 26 manuscripts purchased as a gift to the library by Jewish stockbroker Roberto Foa in memory of his son in 1926.

On the vocal front, there were plangency and fire especially in "Elvira, anima mia", RV 654, and the repeat encore was fully justified. Especially distinguished playing from violinist Paola Nervi and cellist Rebeca Ferri amplified the pleasures. But the biggest gift of all came from Ferri's spirit of delight in everything she played. You don't have to show the significance of all you do; many musicians are more reserved and yet achieve top-quality results. But it certainly makes everyone present feel even better.

Saint-Cybard, Cercles, in festival timeJoyous, unforced communication was the keynote of the afternoon event, too, moving from France to Spain. The words "Baroque" and "dancing" in conjunction can occasion a cold sweat, but Xuriach could not have banished fears more vivaciously. The Spanish multi-taskers hit the right note from the start by bouncing in like a group of travelling players from the sunlit west door, immediately establishing eye contact with the audience. Castanets go naturally with dancing, of course, but you would not necessarily expect a musician to be nimble on his or her feet while playing violin, guitar, fife-and-drum combo, hurdy-gurdy or dulcian (we'll excuse the theorbist from choregraphic steps while playing).

This programme, too, was well coordinated to educate us in the Spanish vigour which later rooted the French "belle danse". A first half stayed close to the source, while the second gave Iberian spirit to courtly gavottes, courantes and the like (the Folies d'Espagne struck as the most familiar, thanks to countless variations). But there was nothing dusty for a second of this wondrous entertainment with its performers of all shapes and sizes – the brilliance of dance execution not always to be found where you expected it. As for the "canaries", the dance-form whisked the ensemble out of the church again. If only we could have joined them for a communal romp on the lawn.

With interludes throughout the day devoted to eating a lunch of local produce under the awnings outside Saint-Cybard, a short walk into La Tour-Blanche to root around the old castle (rather creepy since its last inhabitants burned to death a short time ago) and a dash back to Riberac for more food and a quick change, it was a long day – and a very long concert at the end of it from Koopman and his wife, Tini Mathot, on various chamber organs and harpsichord (pictured below). Ton Koopman and Tini MathotLet's just say that the very personable Koopman's style is idiosyncratic, and that a little of the equally eccentric Antonio Soler's music goes a long way. As in Christian Zacharias's selection of Soler sonatas at the East Neuk Festival, the Spaniard outstayed his welcome, in this case with three of the concertos he composed for the two organs in the Escorial Chapel. But it was bliss to stand in the churchyard chatting to two of the lively team of young festival volunteers – Dutch and American – as we watched for the eclipse. The already orange moon of the previous evening only hazily appeared before going behind clouds, but there was the happy bonus after dark of a hedgehog scuttling along the wall. Rural pleasures in France served up with music as a far from incidental accompaniment are always a joy.

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