As a Mexican-American, I felt guilty watching a French Baroque Concert on Cinco de Mayo, but I’m a sucker for lutes, harpsicords, and 17th Century musical exuberance. Les Arts Florissants, the acclaimed chamber orchestra and vocal ensemble from Caen, France, hit the stage á la tutti full of counterpoint gusto.
For those unfamiliar with Baroque music, it is characterized by the advent of tonality as well as ornate scores that were expanded in size and complexity from the previous era, the Renaissance. The age gave rise to composers such as Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, but unlike like their German and Italian counterparts, French Baroque composers have developed 3,000 more ways to mordent, trill, and flourish melodic lines.
The only thing missing from this concert was a corkage fee, because this evening’s material was comprised of airs sériux et á boire (serious airs and drinking songs), which included whimsical titles such as, “Epitaph of a Lazy Man,” “Tis Better To Die Thank E’ER to Change,” and “Having Drunk Some Claret Wine.”
Les Arts was very faithful in their unamplified, unadulterated, saucy renditions of air de cours. The genius of their approach was injecting plenty of comedic banter into the traditional black suit and red dress production. At one point the male vocalists added black burglary masks and instantly converting the ambience to 17th century court jester banquet show. They fumbled around with the instrumentalist purposely going flat in an out-of-pitch drunken contest. The harpsicordist was sure to put them on track, but the Three Stooges proceeded to bark, moo, and then make donkey calls in unison, all while dancing on a large banquet table stage left. This entertaining production was cheerful and cheeky approach to a great piece of music history.