Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Four Nations Ensemble Performs at King's College

On a stormy Thursday night, the Four Nations Ensemble played in the Burke Auditorium of King's College.

From the ensemble's website:
Founded in 1986, The Four Nations Ensemble brings together soloists who are leading exponents of period instrument and vocal performance to present great music from the Renaissance through the Viennese Classical masterpieces of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
The four performers played works from Baroque & Renaissance composers Couperin, Telemann, Domenico Paradies, and Fran├žois Devienne.

As an introduction, harpsichordist Andrew Appel gave an eloquent description of emotional elements of the pieces, the lives of their composers, and the courtly settings in which they were played. The grandest of these courts was Versailles, a Castle complex like a small city, having 20,000 inhabitants. In sum, his speech gave a helpful frame of reference to the casual listener.

Although older adults made up the majority of the audience, a sizable proportion were students, including seniors Corey Roccograndi and Matt Kotch. Kotch was impressed with the how violinist Krista Feeney produced rich sounds during Telemann's Quartet IV. Roccograndi and Kotch, both casual musicians, seemed mesmerized that the four people in the ensemble could produce so much music.

I must confess that I am relatively unfamiliar with Baroque music outside of having casually listened to a few of Bach and Vivaldi's most famous pieces. It seemed the music the ensemble played had little discernible melody, and when it did in the harpsichord solo, it seemed rather unprolific. Perhaps discernible melodies were unnecessary in 17th & 18th century French courts, where lineage, as Appel related in his introduction, largely determined the important parts of one's life. Perhaps in such a static, relaxed environment, a moving, determined melody would have seemed out of place. The most notable quality of the music seemed to be encapsulated in harmonious meetings of the instruments which, I imagine, mimicked the daily assemblies and activities of courtly figures in France. With these sonic movements Kotch and Roccograndi seemed impressed.

Although Appel mentioned his like for what he called delightful subtleties in the music, besides those in the beginning of Couprin's piece, these subtleties must have all escaped me. Perhaps I have listened to too much sensational music.

My callosities aside, the audience members expressed their pleasure with enthusiastic applause. The ensemble played with prowess and the live music made the event worth attending. And who's to say the intellectual quality if the music did not affect me in a good way? Special thanks to King's College music director Robert Yenkowski for organizing the event.

For more on The Four Nations Ensemble, visit

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