The Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival gave early-music lovers the royal treatment Friday evening at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church with the Washington premiere of six baroque suites by Jean-Baptiste Lully, part of a rediscovered manuscript from 1714 that was once performed for France’s King Louis XIV.
A quartet composed of Jeffrey Cohan on baroque transverse flute, Risa Browder on violin, Leslie Nero on viola and John Moran on viola da gamba re-
created the music that graced the ears of the 75-year-old “Sun King” in the evenings at Versailles. Prepared by the king’s music librarian, the 770-page manuscript contains 67 suites, each culling material from Lully’s operas, ballets and chamber music, along with a trio by one of Lully’s contemporaries, Michel-Richard de Lalande.
For all the effort that festival Artistic Director Cohan took to acquire the historic manuscript during a 24-hour layover in Paris last spring, it’s a pity that the assembled quartet sounded one rehearsal shy of full recital polish. Individually, the musicians were in fine shape, but it was during their ensemble playing that they revealed musical-balance flaws — in part because of the two period instruments’ intrinsic natures — and interpretations that varied from player to player.
Still, whenever the group performed with confidence and sensitivity, the exquisite morsels of French baroque music resonated. Cohan led fearlessly with his playing, bobbing and weaving with enthusiasm and emotion through the six suites. His tone masqueraded within the violin’s in an easy blend, and at other times, it floated over the strings.
Jean is a freelance writer.