The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: A Gallic Baroque delight from a well-matched American trio
Musicians: Trio Settecento
Composer: Lully, F. Couperin, Marais, Rebel, Leclair & Rameau

As the perfect companion to previous Baroque compilations ‘An Italian Sojourn’ and ‘A German Bouquet’ (both also on Cedille), ‘A French Soirée’ finds the Trio Settecento – Rachel Barton Pine (violin), John Mark Rozendaal (viola da gamba) and David Schrader (harpsichord) – on ravishing form. Some may find the generous, open-spaced sonority of the Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Concert Hall a shade lacking in intimacy for the decorative fastidiousness of Lully’s Ballet royal de flore, yet there is no mistaking the chamber-scale sensitivity of these deeply felt performances. Magic moments abound, most memorably the way Barton Pine opens the second section of the (François) Couperin Sarabande with a half-whispered sensuality that captures the change of mood to perfection.

Those listeners familiar with the original scores and blessed with perfect pitch may find that the authentic pitching (A=392) takes a shade getting used to. However, the resulting matt sonorities, especially in the dark descending lines of the Marais Chaconne, fit hand in glove with music that never sounds its best when projected with the bright patina of contemporary tuning. There is much to savour here, yet for me the standout work is Rebel’s Eighth Sonata, written (and played) in D minor which sounds wonderfully gloomy and threatening in our ‘modern’ C minor.