|Last night I attended a double-billed concert at Condom Cathedral, one of the offerings of the short season of Nuits Musicales en Armagnac. The first half of the program consisted of Alain Meunier playing the 3rd and 5th of Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello. |
All of the classical concerts I’ve attended in France over the years have been held in cathedrals and small chapels, from piano recitals at Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre to Mozart’s Requiem at Saint-Eustache. If you’re not particularly enjoying the performance, you can at least lose yourself in the architectural detail of stone and glass.
Tonight I thought the acoustic of this vast space worked well at first, with little phrases trickling back on themselves like an internal monologue. That might have been because I’m not as familiar with these suites as I am with the famous first. After a few minutes I realised that the music was being smothered by the venue – at least when young children weren’t giving a delighted whoop whenever one of the courtly dances which comprise each suite finished.
At a result I spent a lot of time counting saints and angels, and then finally retrieved a book from my bag when I determined that it was better to have the concert as background music than be distracted by the shrieks and murmurs from behind me.
There were a couple of short encores taken from the suites, including that famous opening prelude of the first. Hearing that through the acoustic gauze confirmed that this was the wrong venue for this sort of music.
A half hour intermission followed with refreshments at the rear of the cathedral. The second half of the program was to take place in the cloisters which had been given a canvas canopy and raked seating for such events.
The programme for the evening was now in the hands of the Aeris Quintet, a brass – or as they say in France – copper ensemble. Two weeks ago I wrote about the Cuivro Foli’z in Fleurance which I translated as copper follies, reader Em explaining that the strange spelling was due to it being in the old language of Occitan rather than modern French. Although the outdoor program was very friendly, I must remark on the number of sharp old elbows one has to contend with in entering these indoor concerts. Let me just say that the orderly manner in which the group entered could be a lesson to a great number of the gathered audience.
This half of the program was very entertaining, with no dampening acoustic or threat of conversation that would be louder than two trumpets, a trombone, horn and tuba. The music was accompanied by an exposition from the group’s leader and some Victor Borgesian hi-jinks between its members. Highlights for me were their Miles Davis inflected version of the Adagio from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, and the Largo al Factotum from Rossini’s Barber of Seville with the tuba player as unlikely soloist. However, given that my preferred version of it is Nelson Eddy playing the lead in Disney’s short The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, a tuba is perhaps closer to Rossini’s vision.