As far back as the 12th century there are clear and easily distinguished differences between French and German music whose roots, it is reasonable to suppose, lie in the characteristics of the different languages. Last night's concert of 18th-century music played on period instruments by the Kuijken Quartet at the University of Maryland's Adult Education Center was structured to emphasize these differences.
The first half featured music by Marais, Leclair and Rameau, pieces full of elegant stylistic touches in mannered dance forms, played with deliberate dignity and with attention to the enormous body of conventions that were such an important component of performance practices of the time. The ensemble -- harpsichord, violin, flute and viola da gamba -- chose not to close Rameau's "La Forqueray," "La Cupis" and "La Marais" in the exaggerated rhythmic distortions that are so often associated with this music, choosing, instead a quiet and delicate understatement that was both satisfying and powerful. The second half of the program brought the more abstract and architectural delights of music by Buxtehude and J.S. Bach, and, in an evening of lovely performances, an absolutely smashing reading of a C.P.E. Bach sonata for solo flute. Barthold Kuijken, palying a wooden transverse instrument, shaped each note with exquisite taste and imagination. Quietly and without any hints of archness, he danced through the two allegro movements, ending with a final note that almost wasn't there at all but which hung in the air and held the audience spellbound.