Even in the 17th and 18th centuries, the French wrote music to make love by. Of course, it was delicate music for genteel love-making.
That seemed to be the message in last night's "Baroque Valentine," the Folger Consort's contribution to the day's romantic spirit at the Folger Shakespeare Library. With works from composers both well-known and obscure, the program was the group's first all-Baroque performance.
As with the medieval and renaissance music in which they are expert, the Consort musicians proved themselves to be accomplished Baroque stylists with unfailing good taste. They even produced a single manual French harpsichord for the occasion. And in selections from Jean Jacques Naudot's "Fe tes Rustique" to Jean Philippe Rameau's chamber cantata, "Orphe'e," they brought out the French knack for writing counterpoint that's at once complex and transparent.
The Rameau, for which soprano Ann Monoyios sang a French text, was the evening's most ambitious offering. A retelling of the Orpheus myth as a doubledialogue between the hero and Cupid through music and drama, "Orphe'e" sports abrupt shifts in mood and color.
Monoyios, her voice clear and spare, captured the contrasts musically, but perhaps understated the drama. Consort regulars Robert Eisenstein on viola da gamba and Scott Reiss on recorder, with guest artists Linda Quan on violin and James Wright on harpsichord, supplied able accompaniment and backtalk--especially in Wright and Quan's evocation of Rameau's sprightly and pastoral melodies.
In four 17th-century Airs de Cour (Court Airs) by Gue'dron and Grand-Rue, Monoyios was supported by Consort member Christopher Kendall, who can make a lute sound positively luscious. Other works on the program--including a quartet by Telemann under the felicitous French influence and a forgettable (though not by the Consort) suite by Caix d'Hervelois--were equally charming. --Lloyd Grove