In earlier times, birds were locked in cages and taught to ‘sing’ like humans. But the French early music ensemble La Rêveuse turns that practice on its head and imitates birds in a concert that delights from beginning to end.
La Rêveuse is founded and directed by Benjamin Perrot, who plays theorbo and Florence Bolton, whose basse de viole and pardessus de viole are stringed forerunners of the cello and violin. The music the ensemble makes focuses on the 17th and 18th centuries. However, the four musicians, including Jean-Miguel Aristizabal on harpsichord and Sébastien Marq on different recorders in varying sizes and pitches, and a four-holed variation called the flageolet, often collaborate with companies such as Early Music Vancouver and extend their repertoire to include more modern composers like Ravel. Vincent Bouchot transcribes many of the songs originally written for piano, flute or orchestra to accommodate the ensemble’s early instruments.
The result is captivating.
There are countless highlights in this programme. For instance, when Marq played Jacob Van Eyck’s Engels Nachtegaeltje (English Nightingale), arpeggios, scales and trills flew around Christ Church Cathedral at the speed of a peregrine falcon and drew an eruption of spontaneous applause. The familiarity of the piece added to the pleasure it gave. But Marq not only encapsulates the songs of the nightingale. Flocks of others, most notably the cuckoo, are brought to life when he plays. He says he walks in nature to capture the nuances of birdsong, not merely the notes.
Other delights are Perrot’s restful solo on theorbo, Les Sylvains, or Forest Folk by François Couperin and Aristizabal’s interpretation of the common red hen on harpsichord. Then there’s an ode to a grasshopper and another to a butterfly. “After all, they are flying creatures too,” noted Bolton when she introduced the first, La Sauterelle, played on her basse de viole, alongside the theorbo and harpsichord, and Le Papillon (The Butterfly) played by all four superb musicians.
Le Coucou au fond des bois (The Cuckoo deep in the woods) from Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals and Poules et coqs (Hens and Cockerels) can’t take flight again without mention.
In fact, the entire tribute to this aviary of airborne creatures elevated the spirit and left us hungry for more. And the ensemble obliged with another favourite.
Early Music Vancouver next presents Schubertiade With The Leonids and Chor Leoni on Friday, May 5, at St Andrew’s Wesley United Church. Visit earlymusic.bc.ca for tickets and information.