musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Michel de LA BARRE (c1675 - 1745): "La Julie"

Camille Poul, sopranoa; Louise Moaty, reciterb
Le Mercure Galant
Dir: Serge Saitta

rec: Sept 18 - 21, 201, Paris, Notre-Dame de Bon Secours
Agogique - AGO010 (© 2013) (68'19")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Michel de LA BARRE: La Vénitienne (Quand je revois l'Objet des mes amours; Tendres plaisirs, charmants amours)a; Le Triomphe des Arts (Qu'un coeur est prévenu)a; Ode Anacréontique d'Antoine Houdar de La Motte (Que ne suis-je la fleur nouvelle); Parodie sur La Julie (C'est des beaux jeux de Julie)a; Recueil des plus belles symphonies du Triomphe des Arts (prologue: ouverture; 1er entrée: ouverture; gigue; entrée des plaisirs; 2e entrée: marche; 3 entrée: air O vous qui lancez le tonnerre; entrée des sauvages; chaconne); Suite for transverse flute and bc No. 3 in e minor [2]; Trio in d minor [1] Louis-Antoine DORNEL (1685-1765): Suite in b minor (Prélude L'Aimé de Monsieur de La Barre; Sarabande La Descosteaux) [3]
Jean de LA BRUYÈRE (1645-1696): Le Fleuristeb; Antoine Houdar de LA MOTTE (1672-1731): La Flûte, Ode à Monsieur de La Barreb

Michel de La Barre, [1] Premier Livre des Trio, pour les violons, Flûtes et hautbois, 1694 (3e ed, 1707); [2] Pièces pour la Flûte Traversière avec la Basse-Continue, op. 4, 1702; [3] Louis-Antoine Dornel, Sonates et suites, op. 2, 1711

Serge Saitta, Jean Brégnac, transverse flute; Sophie Gent, Marie Rouquié, violin; Emmanuelle Guigues, viola da gamba; Rémi Cassaigne, theorbo, guitar; Olivier Fortin, harpsichord

The transverse flute was one of the most popular instruments in France in the first half of the 18th century. Many composers wrote music for it, mostly in ensemble with other instruments. As the flute was also played by many amateurs it was quite profitable to produce music for them to play in domestic surroundings. One of the most prolific composers in this department was Michel de La Barre, himself a virtuosic player of the flute. "Thus your enchanting flute, LA BARRE, inspires Tenderness; all is inflamed by its Vanquishing Sounds", Antoine Houdar de la Motte, a contemporary poet and author of librettos, wrote.

Little is known about the early stages of La Barre's career. We don't know exactly when he was born; it is assumed it was around 1675. We also don't know who his teacher was. In his liner-notes Jean-Christophe Pucek suggests it could have been René Pignon Descoteaux, a flautist at the court of Louis XIV. He lived in the same district of Paris where La Barre was born. It was especially the gambist Marin Marais who was an inspiration to La Barre. In 1702 he published the first collection with solo pieces for flute in France. In his preface he states: "I have endeavoured to include in these Pieces some of the beauties, and difficulties, of which this instrument is capable, in order to encourage those who wish to perform them to study sufficiently to be able to do so. And in order to bring this Instrument as close as possible to perfection, I felt that, for the glory of the Flute and my own, I should follow the example of Monsieur Marais who has taken such trouble and care for the perfection of the Viol, and has succeeded so well". From this one may conclude that this collection wasn't just composed for entertainment, but also had an educational purpose. This was an essental element of the Enlightenment which emerged in the early 18th century and produced many treatises.

La Barre also made some forays into the world of the music theatre. He composed two works for the stage, the ballet opera Le triomphe des arts and La Vénitienne, a comédie-ballet. Both were to a libretto by the above-mentioned Houdar de la Motte. They didn't enjoy a positive reception, and La Barre abandoned his efforts in this department. Both compositions are represented here. We hear two arias from La Vénitienne and one from Le triomphe des arts. Pieces from the latter opera were published in instrumental arrangements, from which we get to hear eight, in various scorings.

The largest part of La Barre's output for the flute comprises 19 duets for two flutes. The fact that he wrote so many and that they were published in a relatively short span of time bears witness to their popularity. Some years ago John Solum and Richard Wyton recorded ten of these duets. Apart from the fact that I wasn't that impressed by the performances I also regretted the lack of variation. This disc is preferable in that it presents a wider picture of La Barre's oeuvre. In addition to the music from his operas we hear a suite for flute and bc which is taken from the collection of 1702 mentioned above. It reflects the fashion of the time in that it comprises mainly character pieces: seven of the nine have titles, such as La Richelieu, La Suédoise and La Julie. The latter was inspired by one of his own songs, C'est des beaux yeux de Julie, from a collection of Airs Sérieux et à Boire. The programme also includes an air on a text by Houdar de la Motte, Que ne suis-je la fleur nouvelle.

In 1694 La Barre published a collection with trio sonatas, which were clearly inspired by Marais's trios of 1692. The Trio in d minor recorded here is from the revised edition of 1707. It is a sequence of dances, and includes a Plainte whose expressive character is partly due to some remarkable harmonic progressions. The trio ends with a passacaille.

The programme opens with a prelude by Louis-Antoine Dornel which is a tribute to La Barre. His sarabande refers to Descoteaux, probably the flute teacher of La Barre. Louise Moaty recites La Flûte, Ode à Monsieur de La Barre by Houdar de la Motte, from which I quoted some lines in the first paragraph. It is a shame that the booklet omits the lyrics of the complete poem. The reading is especially interesting because Ms Moaty uses historical pronunciation, known as français restitué. This is also adopted in the airs, sensitively sung by Camille Poul.

The playing of the ensemble and the individual artists is of the highest order. Serge Saitta plays with great subtlety and adds a variety of ornaments. In the suite from Le Triomphe des Arts and the trio sonata the instruments are used in various combinations which makes much sense. The ensemble is impeccable.

There are not that many recordings of La Barre's music. Despite my reservations in regard to the disc by Solum and Wyton it is an important recording and can be considered an interesting addition to the present disc which excludes any duets. Also recommendable is a disc at the Astrée label with two suites from the second edition of the 1702 collection, with Stephen Preston, Jordi Savall, Hopkinson Smith and Blandine Verlet. It was originally released in 1978 and reissued in 1991, but may still be available somewhere. The present disc by Le Mercure Galant proves that La Barre's music is of excellent quality and deserves to be more frequently performed and recorded.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

CD Reviews