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"Concert Parisien à l'époque de Louis XV"

Grégoire Jeay, transverse flutea; Hélène Plouffe, violinb; Juan Manuel Quintana, viola da gambac; Luc Beauséjour, harpsichordd

rec: April 20 - 24, 2009, Mirabel (Québec), Église Saint-Augustin
Analekta - AN 2 9926 (© 2009) (63'37")

Michel BLAVET (1700-1768): Sonata in e minor, op. 3,3acd; Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745): Suite No 2 in G: La Buisson, chaconnecd; Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764): Sonata in D, op. 9,3bcd; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): 3e Concert in Aabcd; 5e Concert in d minorabcd; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Quatuor in G (TWV 43,G4)abcd

(Sources: Georg Philipp Telemann, Nouveaux quatuors en six suites, 1738; Michel Blavet, Sonates, op. 3, 1740; Jean-Philippe Rameau, Pieces de clavecin en concerts, 1741; Jean-Marie Leclair, Quatrième livre de sonates, 1743; Antoine Forqueray, Pièces de viole, 1747)

Today public concerts are an important part of the music scene. But this is a comparatively recent phenomenon. It was the first half of the 18th century which saw the emergence of the public concert. This was closely connected with the increasing role of the bourgeoisie in music life. In more affluent homes musical gatherings were held where chamber music and cantatas were performed. France was one of the countries where this development took place.

Whereas some of those concerts were attended by small numbers of people, there were also large-scale events, like the famous Concert Spirituel in Paris. This disc circles around the farmer-general Le Riche de La Poplinière, who organised concerts where the best musicians of the time were performing. He had a special relationship with Jean-Philippe Rameau, whose patron he was even before he was a composer of repute. Rameau honoured his benefactor in the first movement of the 3e Concert in A from the Pièces de clavecin en concert, which opens this programme.

In the 5e Concert in d minor Rameau pays tribute to another composer, albeit of a previous generation: Antoine Forqueray. 'La Forqueray' is the first movement of this 5th Concert, and is preceded by a piece of Forqueray himself: 'La Buisson', from the Suite No. 2 in G for viola da gamba and bc. Forqueray was one of the last representatives of a tradition which was soon to die out.

At the time the public concert came into existence another development took place: the marriage of the Italian and French styles. This led to a more theatrical manner of composing and an increase in technical virtuosity. That most clearly comes to the fore in the violin sonatas by Jean-Marie Leclair, who even went to Italy to study with Giovanni Battista Somis. The disc ends with the Sonata in G, op. 9,3, modelled after the Italian sonata da chiesa. The sarabande, with the indication 'largo', is particularly expressive.

The mixture of French and Italian styles in Leclair's violin sonatas was adapted to the transverse flute by Michel Blavet. He was one of the most celebrated musicians in France, and no artist performed more frequently at the Concert Spirituel than Blavet. He was highly praised for his singing tone, pure intonation and brilliant technique, with which he - according to contemporary writers - set the standard for the whole of Europe. Blavet's Sonata in e minor, op. 3,3 is in three movements.

German music was largely unknown in France. In the 17th century German composers who admired the French style, and in particular the music of Lully, visited Paris, but it seems they didn't bring German music with them. Johann Sebastian Bach knew François Couperin and his oeuvre, but it is very unlikely that Couperin knew Bach and his music. Telemann certainly was known, though, mainly through the - probably unauthorized - printing of some of his music. In October 1737 he travelled to Paris, at the invitation of French musicians. He stayed here until the end of 1738. During his stay some of the quartets which have come to be known as Paris Quartets, were performed to great acclaim. Among the performers were Michel Blavet and Antoine Forqueray. The Quartet performed here contains five movements, the first of which is in binary form: grave - allegro.

The concept of this disc is interesting enough, but the programming isn't very imaginative. Rameau's Pièces de clavecin en concerts have been recorded many times, just as Telemann's Paris Quartets. The sonatas by Blavet and Leclair have been recorded before as well. The performances are technically immaculate and the interpretation is neat. But unfortunately that is about it.

The first movement of the 3e Concert by Rameau, 'La Lapoplinière', is not dramatic enough, and there is too little contrast with the next movement, 'La Timide'. Forqueray's 'La Buisson' is one of the best parts of this disc, beautifully played by Juan Manuel Quintana. The first movement of the Rameau's 5e Concert, 'La Forqueray', also gets an engaging performance, but the next, 'La Cupis', is not gestural enough, and the last, 'La Marais', is too feeble. The sarabande from Leclair's sonata is given an expressive performance, but the preceding allegro is slowish and lacks dynamic accents.

French music may be elegant and meant to please the ear but there is more drama and contrast in it than these interpretations suggest. More engaging and gestural performances would have made this disc a lot more captivating.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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Luc Beauséjour

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