Mélomanie returned to The Delaware Contemporary on Sunday, January 14, 2018 with a concert that included a World Premiere, selections from the French baroque and a contemporary tribute to an early French composer.
The first half of the program featured early music, opening with a performance of the Suite 1 in C Major from Pieces en trio 1692 by Marin Marais. Marais’s Pieces en trio have taken second place behind his solo viol works, but these trios are exquisitely crafted miniatures requiring the same care and stylistic sensitivity as his solo virtuosic repertory. Mélomanie’s performance showed mastery of the idiom, as it relished Marais’s rich harmonic language while making the most of its musical rhetoric.
Guest soloist Clara Rottsolk then joined the ensemble for a performance of the cantata Leandre et Hero by Louis-Nicolas Clerambault (1676-1749), the master of the genre in France. The instrumentalists introduced the work with sensitivity and style, after which Rottsolk entered with a quiet Recit. Rottsolk’s diction was impeccable. Her soprano soared with clarity and control, although at times her high notes were somewhat jarring. But her capacity for dramatic expression was superb, and she held the audience in rapt attention until the story concluded with the joyful reunion of the young lovers.
Contemporary works filled the second half of the program beginning with — appropriately enough — Tombeau de Marin Marais, a tribute to the Baroque French composer by 20th Century French composer Max Pinchard (1928-2009). Gambist Donna Fournier took the lead with a compelling yet delicate performance. Flutist Kimberly Reighley and violinist Christof Richter provided contrasting color with modern instruments.
The concert concluded with the World Premiere of the cantata Lenten is Comen/Worldes Blis by Thomas Whitman. Whitman, chair of the department of music and dance at Swarthmore College, and his colleague Craig Williamson, gave a lively and informative introduction to the piece with a discussion on the language and spirit of the two poems that form the basis of the composition. (Williamson also participated in a post-concert Q&A session, gave a primer on his years of linguistic research with some interesting examples for members of the audience who stayed on.)
Rottsolk was accompanied by members of Mélomanie on baroque instruments as well as guest Naomi Gray on baroque cello. Rottsolk captured the contrasting moods of the text — the exuberance of spring, the melancholy of a loveless life — with the nuances of her voice. Whitman’s music was melodic and mysterious, joyful and foreboding punctuated with some interesting harmonies for the instrumentalists. The second poem was sung unadorned in its original setting. The audience was left with thoughts of the coming spring on this frigid January day “in bleak midwinter.”