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André CHERON (1695 - 1766): "Sonatas from the French Baroque"

Ensemble Matís

rec: Sept 17 - 20, 2015, Schloss Beuggen
Ars Produktion - ARS 38 550 (2 CDs) (© 2018) (1.29'25")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonate I en duo in G; Sonate II en duo in g minor; Sonate III en duo in e minor; Sonate IV en trio in e minor; Sonate V en trio in c minor; Sonate VI en trio in F; Sonate VII en trio in D

Mira Gloor, HyeonHo Jeon, recorder; HynGun Cho, cello; Ryosuke Sakamoto, theorbo; Han-ma Lee, harpsichord

Many composers who were famous and highly respected in their own time, are almost completely forgotten in modern times. One of them is André Cheron, to whom the set of discs is devoted which is the subject of this review. One has to be thankful to the members of the Ensemble Matís that they have chosen his Op. 2 for their first recording.

Cheron was born into a family of musicians and instrument makers. From 1702 he was a choirboy at the Sainte Chapelle, under the direction of Nicolas Bernier. Here he acted as auxiliary organist from 1713. About 1729 he was in the entourage of Bonnier de la Mosson, a wealthy patron of the arts, where one of his colleagues was Jean-Marie Leclair. The latter became his pupil, and in the preface to his violin concertos op. 7 Leclair expressed his deep gratitude to Cheron for the "erudite instruction" he received from Cheron.

In 1734 he became harpsichordist at the Opéra, and five years later he succeeded Jean-Fery Rebel as batteur de mesure. Later he became maître de chant and inspecteur de l'Opéra. In these capacities he was actively involved in the first performances of operas as Leclair's Scylla et Glaucus and Rameau's Zoroastre and Les Paladins. He also supervised the performance of Pergolesi's intermezzo La serva padrona, which was the catalyst of the Querelle des Bouffons, the debate between supporters of the traditional French opera and those of Italian opera.

Cheron also manifested himself as a composer of sacred music. He wrote a number of grands motets which were performed at the court and in the concert series Concert Spirituel for more than a quarter of a century. Unfortunately all of them are lost. They are considered his main contributions to the history of French music. Only two sets of instrumental works have survived: the trio sonatas which were printed as his Op. 1, and the seven sonatas which are recorded by the Ensemble Matís.

The number of seven is rather unusual. In the 17th and 18th centuries collections of instrumental music mostly consisted of six or twelve pieces. Also unusual is the mixture of solo and trio sonatas. The first three pieces are for a solo instrument and basso continuo, the next four are trio sonatas. However, together they seem to be constructed as a kind of cycle. This issue is discussed by Christoph Prendl in his liner-notes. He refers to the order of keys as given in the header, but also to their characteristics as provided by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (l'énergie des modes). It shows that the sonatas go from G major ("sweet and joyful") to D major ("joyful and very martial"). In between are two sonatas in e minor, apparently not without reason the last of the solo sonatas and the first of the trio sonatas; this key is characterised as "effeminate, enamoured, and plaintif" by Charpentier. One example of the key characteristics expressing themselves in the music, is the last movement from the Sonate V in c minor. It is a gigue with the addition "gay et gracieux". That says less about its character as about the way it should be played, because this movement is anything but "gay", meaning "cheerful". According to Charpentier the key of c minor is "dark and gloomy" and that shows in this movement, which includes a descending figure with chromatic notes that is repeated a couple of times. In comparison the closing movement of the Sonate II in g minor, which has also the addition "gay" is very different, according to the character of the key: "serious and magnificent".

Another notable feature is that Cheron includes a chaconne in two sonatas, not coincidentally the last sonata in each group. Whereas in this production the order in the edition is not followed - the first disc opens with the Sonate IV in e minor - these sonatas sensibly close each of the two discs. The chaconnes are quite long and compensate for the fact that these two sonatas have fewer movements than the others. All the sonatas are in four movements, but the Sonate III in e minor has three movements and the Sonate VII in D only two. The titles of the movements are all in French, and despite the Italian influences in Cheron's sonatas - for instance in that they generally follow the order slow, fast, slow, fast -, they are in fact suites as we know them from French tradition. Cheron's sonatas are considered as rather conservative pieces; that comes to the fore, for instance, in the inclusion of a couple of fugues, which show his mastery of counterpoint.

These sonatas are scored for transverse flute and violin, but as composers were usually quite pragmatic in regard to the choice of instruments, there is no fundamental objection against a performance on two recorders. The Op. 2 was published in 1729, and at that time recorders were still in vogue, especially among amateurs. That said, I certainly would like to hear them in a performance with the instruments mentioned at the title page. The quality of these sonatas would justify such a recording. Neal Zaslaw, in the article on Cheron in New Grove, may call his instrumental music "of minor importance", but musically speaking these sonatas are very good stuff.

One can only applaud the Ensemble Matís for recording these fine sonatas. The quality of the performances fully matches the quality of the sonatas. In the fast movements the players are in full swing. Phrasing and articulation are immaculate, and the rhythms are emphasized by marked dynamic accents, albeit without exaggeration. In the movements with the indication tres vitte (very fast) they pull out all the stops. There is some fine expressive playing in slow movements, such as the sarabandes from the Sonate I in G and the Sonate V in c minor. The third movement from the Sonate VI in F, with the indication pesament et marqué, receives a truly cantabile performance. The two chaconnes are quite long, but there is no dull moment here, thanks to Cheron's fine writing, but also to the excellent playing of the members of the Ensemble Matís.

This is one of the best recordings with music played on recorders I have heard recently. This is definitely an ensemble to keep an eye on. I am looking forward to their next production.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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