King Louis XIV fancied himself a dancer and reportedly had a fine leg for tight costumes. And so dance music was intensely cultivated at Versailles, lavish ballet productions were staged (sometimes with His Majesty in a featured role) and dance styles and rhythms became a basic element of French music. Nearly two centuries later, Verdi and Wagner still had to write ballet music for Paris productions of their operas.
The same spirit of dance permeated a program of chamber music from Versailles performed by Wondrous Machine yesterday afternoon in Christ Church, Capitol Hill: sarabandes, gavottes, allemandes, gigues and minuets, with a bit of counterpoint or song form now and then to vary the mix. The program was played on 18th-century instruments -- gentler, on the whole, than their modern counterparts, though the oboe tended to be more aggressive then than now.
In this ensemble, the oboe is in the hands of Stanley King, who played beautifully in Francois Couperin's Septie me Concert. Mary Springfels found unexpected gracefulness and expressive nuance in that sometimes ungainly instrument, the bass viola da gamba, particularly in a suite by Marin Marais. Other highlights of the program included imaginative interpretations of Rameau's Fifth Concert and Couperin's "La Francoise," not completely free of small performance problems but nonetheless impressive. The program will be repeated at 8 tonight in St. Paul's Church, Alexandria.