Programs by the Smithsonian Chamber Players are rarely simple affairs of fine music well performed. There tend to be layer upon layer of other considerations as well, the sounds of authentic instruments, the scholarship that dictates what appears, sometimes, to be stylistic extremes, and the intricate interrelationships of the pieces on the program that can add a whole philosophical dimension to a concert.
It was no surprise, therefore, that last night's concert of music of the French Baroque in honor of the 300th anniversary of Jean Philippe Rameau's birth, at the Hall of Musical Instruments, was structured with the intricacy of a Sartre play.
The instruments, played at the concert pitch of the French Baroque, which is about a whole tone lower than ours today, gave the sound a mellow patina.
Harpsichordist James Weaver and viola da gambist Kenneth Slowik, who have been leaders in the art of entertaining and educating through the stylistic integrity of their performances, were joined in this endeavor by violinist Linda Quan, whose sense of ornament and phrase was in every respect on a par with theirs, and by flutist Christopher Krueger, oboist Stephen Hammer and viola da gambist Michael Willens, who were also fine.
The program held only a touch of Rameau: three small concerted pieces in the second half that reflected back to three somewhat overripe harpsichord pieces in the first half by Duphly, Forqueray and Royer. But Rameau's age was richly represented by the comic relief of Marais' "La Labyrinthe" (wherein the music wanders through distant keys as the hero wanders, with increasing frustration, through a maze) and, perhaps most vividly, in the two big works by Couperin that opened and closed the program. With gestures to the Italian style that paralleled the French, these pieces gave a sense of unity to the period.