Camerata Kilkenny at the Kevin Barry Room, on 7 November

The observance of historical composer anniversaries often betrays the worst prejudices of the classical music industry. There are a few (Mozart, J.S. Bach, Verdi, Bernstein…) that are so well-flagged they seem unavoidable, while most slip past with barely a mention. This year’s list includes the 350th anniversary of the birth of François Couperin, one of the most significant musicians of the (largely ignored) French baroque and—miraculously—this is being honoured by a three-concert series in the National Concert Hall’s Kevin Barry Room. Curated by Kilkenny musician Malcolm Proud, leading Camerata Kilkenny, this is a labour of love that clearly reflects a determination to bring this music to a wider audience.

The opening concert also marks the inauguration of the Concert Hall’s new harpsichord, an excellent instrument made by builder Alan Gotto, and a valuable addition to the small list of concert harpsichords in Ireland. Based on an early 18th-century French instrument, it is a perfect fit for Couperin, as Proud demonstrates with the opening piece. Couperin’s Ordre No. 8 in B minor is one of the most demanding works for solo keyboard, a suite of dances that combine exquisite craftsmanship with dazzling complexity. Proud, usually the most understated of players, brings a level of intensity and focus to this music that we don’t normally see. It is a rewarding performance, poised, deft and spirited, sensitive to the subtle (and not-so-subtle) shifts of energy that work through the suite. The effect is consummate, absorbing, and deeply joyful.

After this one solo piece, Proud is joined on the stage by Maya Homburger (violin), Wilbert Hazelzet (flute) and Sarah Groser (bass viol) for Telemann’s cosmopolitan Quartet No. 6 in E minor, a work fascinated with both the French and Italian styles that, in turn, receives a fabulously stylish performance. It is a rare treat to have chamber players of this calibre on stage together, with immaculate ensemble playing and a wonderful sense of colour and rhythm, like a group of dancers. The final movement flows like water, a gem.

The theme of this opening concert is ‘Dances and Character Pieces’, and both these ideas are central to Marin Marais’ evocation of the bells of Paris, his Sonnerie de Ste-Geneviève du Mont de Paris, played by the trio of Proud, Groser and violinist Claire Duff. This receives a smooth and supple performance, full of character and finesse in the interplay between the instruments, especially between Groser (clearly relishing Marais’ bold writing for his instrument) and Duff.

The concert closes with the most expansive work of the evening with Couperin’s Troisième Ordre ‘L’Impériale’ in D minor, from his 1726 collection ‘Les Nations’. Drawing on the full ensemble of all the players, plus flautist Miriam Kaczor, this rich work is given an affectionate and energetic performance.

Remembering a vital, but too-often unheard, voice from our musical past, the performances bring Couperin’s music to vivid life, and are rewarded with rapt applause from the well-filled Kevin Barry Room. The ambition of this programme promises much in the coming weeks, and deserves to sell out – see the remaining concerts if you can.

Programme:
François Couperin, Ordre No. 8 on B minor
Georg Philipp Telemann, ‘Paris’ Quartet No. 6 in E minor
Marin Marais, Sonnerie de Ste-Geneviève du Mont de Paris
François Couperin, Troisième Ordre ‘L’Impériale’ in D minor

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