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Jean BARRIÈRE & Martin BERTEAU: Cello Sonatas

[I] Jean BARRIÈRE (1707 - 1747): "Sonates pour le violoncelle avec la basse continue, Vol. 2"
Bruno Cocset, celloa; Guido Balestracci, pardessus de violeb
Les Basses Réunis
Dir: Bruno Cocset
rec: Feb 9 - 14, 2015
Alpha - 220 (© 2015) (73'27")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

La Boucon in c minorc [6]; La Tribolet in a minorc [6]; Sonata for cello and bc in C (No. 6)a [4]; Sonata for cello and bc in e minor (No. 3)a [1]; Sonata for cello and bc in F (No. 5)a [1]; Sonata for cello and bc in f sharp minor (No. 2)a [2]; Sonata for cello and bc in G (No. 6)a [3]; Sonata for pardessus de viole and bc No. 4 in Gb [5]; Sonata for pardessus de viole and bc No. 6 in f minorb [5]

Sources: [1] Sonates pour le violoncelle, avec la basse continüe, Livre Ier, 1733; [2] Sonates pour le violoncelle, avec la basse continüe, Livre IIe, c1735; [3] Sonates pour le violoncelle, avec la basse continüe, Livre IIIe, c1736; [4] Livre IV de sonates pour violoncelle et la basse continue, 1740; [5] Sonates pour le pardessus de viole avec la basse continüe, Livre Ve, 1731; [6] Sonates et pièces pour le clavecin, Livre VI, 1739

Emmanuel Jacques, cello; Richard Myron, double bass; Luca Pianca, theorbo; Bertrand Cuiller, harpsichord (soloc)

[II] Martin BERTEAU (1708 - 1771): "Sonatas & airs for violoncello"
Christophe Coin, Felix Knechtf, Petr Skalka, cello; Markus Hünninger, harpsichordbcdefgh
rec: July 2 - 6, 2013, Malbosc (Ardèche), Eglise
Glossa - GCD 922512 (© 2014) (64'28")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

6e Exercice in Ga [4]; Sonata I in Db [1]; Sonata III in Gc [1]; Sonata IV in F [1] with Amoroso & Air Gay [2]d; Sonata V in E flat [1] with Air Gratieux [2]e; Sonata VI in e [1]f; Sonata VIII in a minor [3]g; [Suite of Airs]h [2]

Sources: [1] Martin Berteau, Sonate da camera a violoncello solo col basso continuo, op. 1, 1748, 17722; [2] Jean-Baptiste Cupis [le jeune], Receuil d’airs choisis des meilleurs auteurs ajusté pour le violoncelle, 1761; [3] Jean Baptiste Bréval, Traité du violoncelle, op. 42, 1804; [4] Jean-Louis Duport, Essai sur le doigté du violoncelle et sur la conduite de l'archet, 1806

In the first decades of the 18th century French music came increasingly under the influence of the Italian style. A token of this development was the fact that the cello gained prominence and gradually overshadowed the viola da gamba. It is telling that Martin Berteau and probably also Jean Barrière - the composers who feature on the discs under review here - were educated on the viola da gamba and later turned to the cello. They were exact contemporaries and are considered the pioneers of cello playing in France.

Barrière was from Bordeaux and worked in Paris in 1730 as Musicien ordinaire de notre Académie Royale de Musique. In 1733 he was granted a privilege to publish sonatas and other instrumental works. In 1736 he went to Rome to study the cello but it seems very likely that he already composed for the cello before that. His first two books with six sonatas each were printed in Paris in 1733 and 1735 respectively; these were followed in 1739 and 1740 by the third and fourth book. These collections show an increase in technical complexity and the last two books attest to a growing influence of the Italian style. "The cello sonatas include a variety of technical problems – passages in double 3rds, arpeggiated chords and multiple stops, and brilliant virtuoso passages extending into the upper range", Mary Cyr writes in New Grove. Not all of them are present in the sonatas which Bruno Cocset recorded with his ensemble Les Basses Réunis. Some movements include double stopping, for instance the adagio from the Sonata No. 2 in f sharp minor from Book II which opens the programme.

In his liner-notes Cocset discusses the issue of the choice of instrument for these sonatas. "Resolving certain difficulties or problems for their technical realisation by using cellos tuned differently or with five strings can sometimes seem credible. (...) In my opinion, only Sonata 6 of Book III was surely played on a tenor cello, tuned a fifth above the cello in C; moreover, it does not descend below G. (...) For all the other sonatas, I use the four-string cello in C with the usual tuning in fifths: the fingering solutions derive from the playing of the left hand of the viola da gamba (...) or the use of the thumb in the upper parts of the instrument (Sonata 6/Book IV), a practice doubtless encountered during his attested stay in Italy (...)." This is in line with what Mary Cyr writes: "Some passages in his work suggest the use of the thumb of the left hand in the upper register (e'' in book 5 no.6), a technique which he probably introduced in France."

This issue is especially interesting in that the introduction of the use of the thumb in the upper positions is also attributed to Martin Berteau, according to Thomas Drescher in the liner-notes to the Glossa disc. It will probably be impossible to decide who of these two was the first to use it. It is clear from the descriptions of their activities as players of the cello that they both greatly extended the playing technique which also made a larger compass of the cello available. Especially in some pieces by Berteau we find the exploration of high positions, but not - at least not in the pieces played here - to the same extent as in some sonatas by Boccherini.

The Barrière disc has some nice additions. Barrière not only composed music for his own instrument. In 1739 he also published a book - as Livre V - for the pardessus de viole. This term could cause some confusion. We know the treble viol as the instrument which in consort music of the 16th and 17th centuries usually played the upper part. In his liner-notes Guido Balestracci writes that at the end of the 17th century "the pardessus resembled a small treble viol. It had six strings and high ribs and would be used thus until the end of the century, even though in a minority as of the 1750s." However, at the time Barrière published his sonatas the instrument had changed: the tuning combined fourths and fifths, the number of strings was reduced from six to five and so was the height of the ribs. This resulted in the birth of the quinton, "a five-string pardessus with a real violin body, ideally combining the qualities of two families, viols and violins". Balestracci also notes that the considerable repertoire which came into existence around that time was intended for the quinton. That probably included the sonatas by Barrière. It is a little odd then that he plays the two sonatas from Book V on the copy of a pardessus de viole of around 1690.

I also wonder why Bertrand Cuiller plays the copy of an early 18th-century German instrument in the basso continuo of the sonatas but uses a French harpsichord in the two solo pieces. These are from a piece of Sonates et Pièces pour le Clavecin which Barrière published as his Livre VI after 1740. La Boucon and La Triboulet are two of the five character pieces in this book; the first five of the six sonatas are arrangements of the first five sonatas for pardessus de violon.

This is the second disc Bruno Cocset devoted to Barrière, and that is well deserved. His sonatas are of a consistently high quality and are certainly not only interesting from a technical point of view. Notable is the tremolo in the closing allegro from the Sonata in F and the busy bass line in the aria gratioso from the Sonata in G. The latter is one of the nicest movements on this disc. The sonatas for pardessus de viole are a kind of extension of a long tradition of viol playing and composing in France, but stylistically they show a strong Italian influence. The last movement from the Sonata in f minor which closes the programme is quite remarkable and reminds me of medieval dances. The artists explore the features of these sonatas to the full. I like the dynamic accents which emphasize the rhythmic pulse and reveal that most movements are dances but in name. Listening to this disc makes one want some more.

Barrière is not a completely unknown quantity. Cocset and also some of his colleagues have recorded sonatas from his oeuvre. That is different with Martin Berteau: he is an important link in the history of the cello but few of his music has been recorded. It seems that only the Sonata III in G has appeared on disc several times; Angela East included it in her recording "Baroque Cello Illuminations". The booklet doesn't claim that the other sonatas and airs by Berteau are recorded here for the first time but that seems quite possible. That is probably surprising as his sonatas op. 1 are available in a reprint from 1991.

In the light of his importance for the history of the cello it is rather frustrating that so little is known about Berteau. The article in New Grove is confined to little more than six lines. Thomas Drescher, in his liner-notes, has little to add except some anecdotes which tell us something about his character. It is known that he first studied the viola da gamba in Bohemia. Here he switched to the cello, seemingly after having heard the Italian cellist Francesco Alborea. In 1739 he performed a cello concerto from his own pen at the Concert Spirituel in Paris. He was very active as a teacher: some of the main cellists of the next generation were among his pupils, such as the Duport brothers and François Cupis. Elements of his playing found their way into treatises by the likes of Cupis, Bréval and Jean-Louis Duport.

Berteau's extant oeuvre is small. They include six sonatas for cello and bc of 1748 which were published under the name Signor Martino, ten sonate da camera for violin and bc, printed as his op. 2 in 1767 and four further cello sonatas which have come down to us in manuscript. In addition there are some separate pieces which are included in the treatises by Cupis, Bréval and Duport. The main part of this disc comprises five of the six sonatas op. 1. Considering the playing time it is a bit surprising and disappointing that this collection has not been recorded complete. The pieces from the various treatises are included here in different ways. Three of them have been included in the sonatas IV and V; five other pieces are played as a kind of suite. The Sonata in a minor is included as Sonata VIII in Bréval's treatise which he published as his op. 42 in 1804. That was long after Berteau's death which bears witness to his remaining fame. This sonata consists of just one movement (vivace). The op. 1 closes with a sonata which is called Trio. It is in three parts which are performed here with three cello's, without the participation of the harpsichord. In the Sixième Exercice in G the bass part is also performed by a cello alone.

These sonatas and airs by Beteau are very nice to listen to. They are more than demonstrations of the technical possibilities of the instrument. The fact that the airs are included in treatises could suggest that they are just pedagogical in nature but that is certainly not the case. They make a nice and musically worthwhile addition to the sonatas. In the closing rondo from the Sonata III Berteau includes harmonics (flageolet tones); this is probably the reason that this sonata has been recorded several times. High positions are explored in the vivace from the Sonata I in D.

Christophe Coin delivers technically immaculate and musically engaging interpretations. He is assisted by two of his former students, Petr Skalka and Felix Knecht. Together they bring a fine performance of the Trio in e minor. The airs are played as gracefully as the addition gratieux to a number of them suggest. This disc should appeal to a wide range of music lovers, and not just those who have a special liking for the cello.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Guido Balestracci
Petr Skalka
Les Basses Réunis

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