Ensemble Les Folies Françoises plays with vivacity at La Maison Francaise

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The excellent series of baroque music concerts at La Maison Française continued on Tuesday night. Some daring sonatas by Jean-Marie Leclair, the foremost French violin virtuoso of the early 18th century, were performed by three players from the historically informed performance ensemble Les Folies Françoises. Violinist Patrick Cohën-Akenine, harpsichordist Béatrice Martin and cellist François Poly drew the program largely from their fine "Leclair" CD, released a few years ago on the Alpha label.

Cohën-Akenine played with vivacity and accuracy, adding lavish ornamentation while producing a warm, smooth tone on his instrument's gut strings. The fourth and seventh sonatas from Leclair's third book were the most consistently lovely from all three musicians. In the opening Leclair sonata (No. 8 from the second book), Poly did his best at playing the middle part, created for a middle-range viola da gamba and notated mostly in the C clef, but the high passages were often strained and off-key.

Martin's solo set of character pieces for harpsichord by Pancrace Royer was sculpted incisively, exploiting the color possibilities of the Mark Adler instrument at her disposal. Pleasing manual changes enlivened "La Bagatelle," and variation was created by manipulating articulation and tempo shifts, for example giving a seasick feeling to "Le Vertigo." Her realizations of the continuo part in the group sonatas were ornate and diverting, the improvised melodic lines in her right hand complementing the solo part.

Endless fast runs and contrapuntal lines in the violin part of Leclair's "Le Tombeau" sonata put Cohën-Akenine through his technical paces, not always faultlessly. Poly shone strongest in his solo moment, a sonata by 18th-century cello virtuoso Jean-Baptiste Barrière, a difficult work that shows a kinship to Vivaldi in its lively figuration.

-- Charles T. Downey

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