Sunday, May 14, 2017

Of the traverso, viola da gamba and theorbo ... Les Ordinaires at the Culbertson Mansion.

On Saturday evening the Culbertson Mansion hosted a performance by Les Ordinaires. We were treated to selections from the group's first CD (to be released in 2018).

Les Ordinaires first CD, Inner Chambers - Royal Court Music of Louis XIV, will feature music that explores the depths of human emotion couched within the formal and mannered style of the French Baroque period. Life at court was filled with strict hierarchies and social structures, lavish display of ornaments and affluence, love of allegory, and an affected nostalgia for the pastoral life and antiquity. At the same time, art sought to express human emotion in all its many shades and subtleties. All of these qualities merge in the music that Louis XIV enjoyed in the evenings in his inner chambers.

There were many fine musicians who played for the king's private enjoyment, known as les ordinaires du Roi, but it was the softly expressive combination of the traverso, viola da gamba and theorbo, called the Royal Trio, that accompanied the king's retirement to bed. Although there are many written accounts from the diaries of courtiers describing these evenings, few recordings exist that try to capture the intimate spirit of these royal trio concerts. Repertoire on this CD includes pieces by Hotteterre, Couperin, Montéclair, Marais and Lully.

We expected the setting to be intimate and the music wonderful, and were not disappointed on either count, but what I didn't expect was the reality of the theorbo's sheer size.

Old school music, old school instruments.

Traverso: An early Baroque flute.

Viola da gamba: A bowed string instrument similar to the cello.

Theorbo: A large instrument from the lute family.

The performers were warm and engaging, providing helpful background information about the program and the instruments there were playing. It's hard to imagine the music and the setting being more perfectly aligned.

Insofar as "classical" music retains any resonance in the popular imagination, it's usually about large, muscular symphony orchestras playing at the concert hall. But to me, chamber music is the lure, especially when being played outside the customary venues.

Last night the Pepin Mansion across Main had a backyard wedding reception with horrendous amplified music (why does Pastimes always get the complaints?), and on occasion a monster semi rig would rumble past, shaking the Culbertson's timbers.

In other words, Les Ordinaires was performing out in the real world, albeit inside a gilded museum, and while these outside distractions were annoying, they also testified to the importance of getting formal music into the community, where it lives -- something Teddy Abrams has been doing with the Louisville Orchestra.

Speaking for myself, I'll probably never be as well versed in the "classical" repertoire as I'd like, although the opportunity to learn about the instruments played last night is much appreciated. The overarching point? This music speaks to me, and I feel good while listening.

Being able to walk from our house to the show on a gorgeous May evening was icing.

Thanks to the Culbertson Mansion staff and everyone who made the performance possible. More of them, please.

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