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Jean-Joseph Cassanéa DE MONDONVILLE (1711 - 1772): Pièces de Clavecin avec voix ou violon, op. 5

Luc Beauséjour, harpsichorda; Shannon Mercer, sopranob; Hélène Plouffe, violinc

rec: June 7 - 9, 2006, Mirabel (Can), Église Saint-Augustin
Analekta - AN 2 9920 (© 2007) (71'05")

Benefac, Domine [2]; In decachordo psalterio [2]; In Domino laudabitur [2]; Laudate Dominum [2]; Paratum cor meum [2]; Protector meus [2]; Quare tristis est, anima mea [2]; Regna terrae, Cantate Deo [2]; Sonata for harpsichord and violin in C, op. 3,4 [1]; Spera in Deo [2]

Sources: [1] Pièces de clavecin en sonates, op. 3, 1734; [2] Pièces de Clavecin avec voix ou violon, op. 5, 1748

Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville was the contemporary of Jean-Philippe Rameau, but today is almost totally overshadowed by his colleague. But he was one of the most important figures of his era, and in several ways contributed to the development of musical style in his time.

Mondonville was born in Narbonne, where his father was organist at the cathedral. It was probably he, who have Jean-Joseph his first musical lessons, although very little is known about Mondonville's early musical education. In 1731 he settled in Paris and in 1734 he made his debut at the Concert Spirituel as violinist. In the first half of the 1730's his first two collections with chamber music were published. In 1739 he got his first important job: he was appointed violinist du Chambre et de la Chapelle du Roy.

From 1744 to 1756 he acted as maître of the Chapelle Royale, but at the same time developed into one of the busiest and most celebrated violinists of his time. He regularly performed with other top-notch musicians, like the flautist Michel Blavet, the violinist Jean-Pierre Guignon and the singer Marie Fel. In 1748 he became co-director of the Concert Spirituel, and - after the death of Pancrace Royer in 1755 - director. In this capacity he opened the ears of his audiences for the latest music, like organ concertos by Balbastre and symphonies by Gossec, but also music from abroad, like works by Wagenseil and Holzbauer.

In his capacity as composer Mondonville also contributed to the development of music. With his grands motets he invigorated a genre which had been one of the most important in the Concert Spirituel. He also brought the genre of the oratorio to life again, which had been almost forgotten since Charpentier, and he was quite successful as an opera composer. The present disc brings music from two collections which are also remarkable and rather unusual.

The disc ends with one of the six sonatas opus 3. These Pièces de clavecin en sonates were published in 1734 and are set for keyboard with accompaniment of violin. It is the first time this kind of scoring was used in France. Normally the violin would have the lead, supported by a basso continuo part for the harpsichord. Here the keyboard part is fully written-out, to which the violin part is added. The sonatas are in three sections, fast - slow - fast. With this set Mondonville set an example which was soon to be followed by other collections of pieces for the same scoring. The best-known among them are the Pièces de clavecin en concert by Jean-Philippe Rameau.

The six sonatas opus 5 are even less conventional. What we have here is a set of sonatas with again a fully written-out keyboard part, to which parts for violin and soprano are added. The texts are from the Book of Psalms, but in fact the soprano part is more a kind of vocalise, as it is very instrumental in character. It contains both French and Italian elements and therefore this opus represents the goût réüni which had become increasingly popular in the first half of the 18th century. Mondonville had performers in mind who were able both to play the keyboard and to sing. This is no minor task as both parts are technically quite demanding. The title may suggest the violin and the voice are alternatives, but that is not the case. In almost all sonatas both violin and soprano are needed. Unless, that is, the keyboard player insn't able to sing. If the performer wishes so, the keyboard part can be played independently and the parts of violin and voice can be left out.

To my knowledge this is the first recording of the complete set of nine sonatas opus 5. Some of them have been recorded before, but here we have the opportunity to listen to all of them, and fortunately the interpretation presents them in their full glory. The performance of the keyboard part by Lux Beauséjour is highly accomplished and thouroughly musical, whereas the other participants adapt their instruments impressively to the harpsichord and to each other. It is vital that voice and violin are completely integrated in the keyboard part, and any vibrato in either of them would make them stand apart and destroy the overall result. That is not the case here: Shannon Mercer sings her part beautifully, in a very instrumental way, with subtle dynamic shades. Likewise Hélène Plouffe gives a very impressive account of the violin part, following the ebb and flow of the music in her phrasing and her treatment of dynamics. She also gives a very good interpretation of the violin part in the only sonata from opus 3 recorded here. I wouldn't mind hearing the entire opus with these performers.

In short, this is a most exciting recording. The music is very unconventional, but very rewarding, and the performers present the repertoire in top-notch interpretations.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

Luc Beauséjour
Shannon Mercer
Hélène Plouffe

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