French early music quartet Nevermind takes its name from the landmark 90s grunge album by Nirvana, which featured the hit Smells Like Teen Spirit. “We were thinking that for our first album we would have a photo of the four of us in a swimming pool,” flute player Anna Besson joked in an interview, riffing on the album’s iconic cover art. It’s an apt moniker for an ensemble – formed when the musicians were students at the Paris Conservatoire – that unites impeccable HIP credentials with a relaxed, hipster aesthetic. In Sydney on their first national tour for Musica Viva Australia, the group certainly didn’t disappoint, delivering stylish, refined performances of music by Marais, Couperin and Telemann – as well as lesser known composers Quentin and Guillemain – with easy panache and formidable technique.

NevermindNevermind. Photo © Keith Saunders

The musicians whet the audience’s appetite with four movements from the fourth suite in Marin Marais’ 1692 Pièces en trio, showing off a polished, complex sound, limned at the upper end by the sweetness of Besson’s baroque flute and the darker, penetrating sound of Louis Creac’h’s violin. Lean viola da gamba lines from Robin Pharo offset rolling flourishes from Jean Rondeau in the lyrical La Marianne while the almost agonisingly drawn out Plainte once more highlighted the rich, floral sound of the ensemble.

The ornate filigree of François Couperin’s L’Espagnole suite from the 1726 Les Nations ramped up the intensity, the group’s ensemble work impeccable (and beautifully balanced) across tripping and lilting dance movements, the musicians dextrous in the fast passagework. A moment in the final Passacaille when the continuo of harpsichord and viola da gamba suddenly dropped away to reveal exquisitely duetting flute and violin was simply breath-taking.

Nevermind at Sydney’s City Recital Hall. Photo © Musica Viva

The music after interval traded dance for conversation, opening with the clean lines of Telemann’s Sonata No 2 in G Minor, the fourth of the composer’s so-called ‘Paris Quartets’, which Nevermind recorded for their second album in 2017. The rapport between the players on stage was tangible as their melancholy interleaving voices in the Largo threw the effervescence of the Vivace and the momentum of the finale into dramatic relief.

Nevermind brought the concert to a close with works by two relatively unknown French composers, whose music they recorded for their first album in 2015, Jean-Baptiste Quentin (whose birth and death dates we don’t even know with any certainty, though he did work for what became the Paris Opéra) and Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, who played in the court of Louis XV.

Popping flute lines opened the lively Allegro of Quentin’s Quartet Sonata in A Minor, Op 15, No 3, with highlights including the forlorn viola da gamba of the Largo and the tender folk lullaby of the third movement, featuring the harpsichord’s glittering, music-box high register, before a jovial Presto capped off the work.

Guillemain’s Quartet Sonata No 3 in D Minor (from his Op. 12 Six Quartet Sonatas or Galant and Amusing Conversations) featured flourishing phrases in the opening movement, a sighing Larghetto and cheerful Aria before the robust – but humorous – exchange of the finale (which saw the musicians trading wry glances) brought the program to a close. A final meditative Quentin movement, beginning with the single voice of solo harpsichord, serving as a thoughtful encore.

Nevermind is on tour for Musica Viva Australia until October 26


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