The quartet Les Grâces has a new MSR CD is titled Les Grâces Françoises…the French graces or ornaments, a theme that runs through the selections.
Three of the quartet’s members: soprano Jennifer Paulino, viola da gambist Rebekaah Arhrendt and harpsichordist Jonathan Rhodes Lee graced our presence for an interview.
Paulino is the soloist for cantatas that open and close the CD. The first by Nicolas Bernier is described as “comic and quite Italian.” It’s named Le Caffé. Perhaps it could be part of an ad for Starbucks? “Yes, it says that coffee is better than wine.” Says Paulino. Her second cantata continues in a serious vein with Monteclair’s very French treatment of the sad drunken Ariadne. For both Paulino had plenty of those graces to contend with. “I’ve studied ornaments for a variety of languages and periods,” she says. “With these two cantatas, I had to focus on the French, but be sensitive to the Italian.”
Rebeckah Ahrendt, the group’s gamba player, also had a heavy diet of those ornamental graces with solo works by Marin Marais. “Marais wrote hundreds of pieces for the gamba and he was a bit of a pedagogue,” says Ahrendt. He’s pretty clear about what ornaments to use and where to use them, but it still takes a lot of study. When Marais was writing, the gamba was regarded as having a tone close to the human voice, so that’s why I’ve always liked to work with singers.”
Harpsichordist Jonathan Rhodes Lee , like Ahrendt is an accompanist for all of the pieces on the CD, but he also has his own solo spot with works by Jacques Duphly. One of the pieces that Lee selected is actually titled “Les Grâces .” “Duphly was famous for writing extremely virtuosic pieces,” says Lee. “He added so many of those ‘graces,’ those ornaments that he actually had to invent his own catalog for them. Our theme for the CD was graces, and these pieces are all about those ornaments.”