Herewith, a celebration of the passionate and refined viola da gamba playing of Lucile Boulanger.
I first came across Lucile’s playing in a video performance of Orlando Gibbons’ Fancy for Six Viols, playing treble viol:
It’s a beautiful performance by a superb group of musicians, all at the top of their game, using instruments by a single luthier, as a chest of viols should be. I recommend purchasing the album, as it is uniformly superb throughout. As should be the case with the English consort repertoire, there is nothing in the performance to distinguish one musician from another – they play as one.
But then I discovered this video of her Bach recording with the brilliant harpsichordist, Arnaud de Pasquale, which really impressed on me two things: her incredible musicianship and her stunning presence:
With head turned away from the viol, and eyes closed, she seems deeply involved with Bach’s searching music. Of course, Arnaud is no less involved, but there is clearly something in Lucile’s posture (which would give a heart attack to any Alexander Technique practitioner!) which engages the passions. Every note is pulled from the score, shaped and caressed, before being released into the world. Both the image and expression unite to give a strong and lasting impression. In other words, yes, dear reader, I’m smitten!
I have found myself listening to the whole album (recommended, of course) in a similar posture, with head cocked to one side, eyes closed, and no less entranced. The music does suffice on its own, but the image of her playing is, shall we say, engaging. Here is another from the same recording session:
Here she plays music from a composer I had not heard of, Fabrizio Facciola, whose compositions were included in a book of ricercari from a number of composers: De’ Ricercari a due voci di diversi autori di nuovo Ristampati. Libro Primo – Florence, 1686:
Such duets were often created for didactical purposes, but the duo easily surpass that requirement, while dancing round each other in quiet conversation.
So, I have become a fan of her playing, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that she was a child actress on television and film. Here’s a still from La place du père:
She hasn’t changed at all!
Lucile’s latest recording is Le Défis de Mr Forqueray, with music from Corelli, Mascitti, Leclair, and Forqueray himself. According to THIS review, “This one is something special. Antoine Forqueray (1672-1745), a French Baroque composer and Viola da Gamba master, is the center of this fascinating album. Lucie Boulanger chose pieces which this rather forgotten figure either played or composed. Some are transcribed from violin to Viola da Gamba, other written specifically for the Viola…Superb album, then, packed with great music at 76 minutes, presented with a good background information and an exemplary recording quality, on par with Harmonia Mundi’s best. Highly recommended.” – I’m off to download a copy!
Lucile Boulanger is still young, with a long recording and performance life ahead of her. I for one look forward to seeing where she takes us and her instrument. Check her website for forthcoming activity:
Since writing the above post I have felt somewhat uncomfortable that I talked about a female performer’s looks (though in the context of a stage presence), whereas I never thought of doing that with my appraisal of Robin Pharo. While that is not something I am embarrassed about, I have to say that above all Lucile is one of my favourite musicians (not just viol players). Few people caress each note as beautifully as she does, and she has incredible facility in fast passages too. The music always come first. Her performances breathe life.
As for Lucile’s posture, she doesn’t normally play as she did in that first video, where turning her head doubtless allowed her to hear the harpsichord better. Here is a beautiful solo performance of music by Le Sieur de Sainte Colombe. Notice the same utter commitment to every single note. This is music making of the highest order.