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A Weekend at the Festival de Beaune

by Joel Kasow

BEAUNE, FRANCE, 8 July 1998 - Beaune's 16th International Baroque Music Festival got off to a flying start last weekend with three concerts and a medieval buffet. The magic setting in the courtyard of the Hospices de Beaune was unfortunately not used this weekend because of the uncertain weather conditions, so that once again we were in the Basilica which offers an extremely favorable acoustic. Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre - Grenoble displayed their customary verve in a program devoted to Handel's Roman Motets, of which the Dixit Dominus has long been a popular favorite and here rightly brought the opening concert to a roaring conclusion. The 1707 Laudate Pueri and the Salve Regina have merited recordings by various sopranos, even though here sung by mezzo Magdalena Kozena who experienced no difficulty in this terrifying music. But that was nothing in comparison to the perils awaiting Sandrine Piau in Saeviat Tellus, which did guarantee an explosive opening to the concert, comparable to the effect made by Annick Massis a few years back when she sang in Handel's Risurezione here. The music covers at least a two-octave range, is strewn with fiendishly complicated coloratura and demands unbelievable lung power: Ms. Piau made it with room to spare so that the audience was left even more breathless than the soprano at the conclusion.

Saturday evening was devoted to Vivaldi under the motoric bow/baton of Fabio Biondi leading Europa Galante. Three of Vivaldi's Concerto Grossi Opus 3 that are part of the violinists's first recording for his new company rounded out a program that should have allowed us to hear a complete opera by the Red Priest, but the difficulty of producing a performing edition meant that we heard three soprano solos by Maria Costanza Nocentini, three mezzo solos by Laura Polverelli of the sumptuous timbre and one duet. Unfortunately, Biondi's relentless approach too often obscures the subtleties of the music. A pizzicato accompaniment to a mezzo aria from Atenaide was more notable for the instrumental music than a vocal line of limited interest, despite Polverelli's seamless vocalizing.

Because this year is the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of Citeaux, where the Cistercian movement started, a marathon concert was organized in the Salle des Pôvres of the Hospices, with the theme " De la paix des cloîtres aux routes de l'orient ". At 8 pm, Joan-Luc Madiér and Dominique Regef offered Chants de Troubadours, which found an echo in the concluding section offered by Anne Azéma and Joël Cohen where the emphasis was placed on a reversal of courtly tradition. At 11:30, all four of these performers joined up to close the musical part of the evening with a dialogue between a troubadour singing in occitan and a Genoese lady. In between Brigitte Lesne's group all-female group Discantus gave us a generous three quarters of an hour of Chants moniales , the needed contrast brought by the constantly changing groups of singers. I was least happy with an interminable Chants de Trouvères & de Croisades offered by Ensemble Alla Francesca, three performers (including Brigitte Lesne) performing on flutes, bagpipes, vièle, rebec, cistre, harpe, percussion and chifonie - whatever that might be - and also singing.

More fun was to be had at the ensuing buffet in the gardens of the Hospice, prepared by chef Jean Garcin from the Restaurant of the Hotel Central at Beaune, featuring: Fromentée à l'orge perlé et aux légumes, Tourte de carpes marinées au vin rouge à l'estragon, Champignons et herbes en croste, Fromage de Citeaux et Pain d'espiaute, Reboulastre d'oeufz aux oranges and Mets de pommes et de poires plumées à la cannelleto round off the meal. Twenty-one different wines were available for tasting (and drinking), including a 1988 Corton Grancey Grand Cru, a 1987 Clos de Tart Grand Cru, 1991 Corton Grand Cru, 1992 Aloxe Corton, and a heavenly 1994 Château de Rully.

The festival continues, every weekend until 1 August, with details to be found in Culturekiosque's Opera Festival Calendar

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