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-- Grace Jean

Opera Lafayette and Four Nations Ensemble

The early-music group Opera Lafayette dedicated the recital by the Four Nations Ensemble, which they hosted Sunday at the French Embassy, to the late harpsichordist and baroque music champion Albert Fuller. But the dedication might just as well have gone to dadaist provocateur Marcel Duchamp, who'd have loved the anarchic spirit of titling a recital "A Rococo Noel," while programming not a single note of Christmas-related music!

But if listeners seeking 17th-century carols were disappointed -- especially given the un-atmospherically corporate (if acoustically lively) reception room where the group performed -- there can have been few disappointments in the music-making offered. Sidestepping Lafayette's usual fare of French baroque opera, Artistic Director Ryan Brown presented the Four Nations musicians in sonatas and suites by Couperin, Mondonville, Leclair and Locatelli (with Brown joining them throughout on violin), interspersed with a smattering of vocal music by Lully, Lambert and Mondonville sung by Canadian mezzo Julie Boulianne.

The program was played with handsome tone, immediacy of feeling and a buoyant rise and fall to the phrasing -- though a tendency of Four Nations violinist Krista Bennion Feeney's high notes to squeak off-track into upper harmonics proved a particular distraction in a Mondonville sonata. Boulianne, an appealing singer, possessed an emotionally engaging voice of richness and lustrous purity. What a pity she had so little to sing. Perhaps a few French carols wouldn't have been amiss?

-- Joe Banno

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