Slowik was being disingenuous, of course. The guest conductor has been deeply immersed in this relatively obscure repertory, and under his skilled direction the concert, dubbed "Vive la France!," lived up to the exclamation mark. Listeners discovered some delightful works by composers most had never heard before, except perhaps on recordings Andre Campra, Marin Marais, Jean-Marie Leclair and Jean-Philippe Rameau. MOB has long neglected French repertory, so Thursday's accomplished performances (assembled with limited rehearsal) were doubly welcome. Once again, the MOB players proved they are the most adaptable small orchestra in town.
The four works on Slowik's program traced the evolution of French baroque orchestral music from the rigidly stylized model of Jean-Baptiste Lully to more cosmopolitan, particularly Italian, forms of expression.
A cantata from Campra's 1710 opera-ballet "The Venetian Festivals" was notable for the crisp dance rhythms and light, airy textures Slowik was able to achieve in a sequence of brief instrumental and vocal sections. The latter were sung with wonderful crystalline timbre and stylish authority by soprano Ann Monoyios.
From there Slowik moved on to his own suite of dances from Marais' tragedy "Alcione" (1706), bringing out the subtle colors of each section, especially the famous tempest with its rumbling bass drum and wind machine under whooshing violins. He might have pared down the suite to fewer than 14 excerpts, although, given the quality of the results, it was hard to fault his enthusiasm for the composer made popular by the 1991 film "Tous les matins du monde."
A Leclair violin concerto in A minor kept concertmaster Elliott Golub elegantly engaged in cascades of dancing figuration that sounded very much like Gallic Vivaldi. It made a lively prelude to the suite of 10 so-called "symphonies" Slowik drew from Rameau's 1735 opera-ballet "Les Indes galantes" ("The Amorous Indies"). The high quality and sheer variety of musical invention here is astonishing, especially the woodwind writing that gave MOB's fine players trouble only at the outset of the overture. Slowik captured the brusque vigor of the more fanciful dances particularly well.
The program was due to be repeated Friday at First United Methodist Church, Evanston.