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"The Forqueray Family - Chamber music for harpsichord and viola da gamba"

Christoph Urbanetz, viola da gamba; Magdalena Malec, harpsichord; Soetkin Elbers, soprano; Sara Ruiz Martinez, viola da gamba

rec: July 27 - 28, 2008 & March 1 - 4, 2009, Castello di Montisi (Siena)
Brilliant Classics - 93802 (2 CDs) (1.46'30")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745): Allemande; Musette; Suite in c minor; Suite in d minor; Suite in G; Jean-Baptiste FORQUERAY (1699-1782): La Angrave; La du Vaucel; La Morangis ou La Plissay; Michel FORQUERAY (1681-1757): Le Papillon et la Rose, air; N'espère plus, jeune Lisette, musette; Prélude de Forcroy (attr)

The music of father and son Forqueray is quite popular among gambists and harpsichordists and there is no lack of recordings of their oeuvre, which by the way is rather small. It seems that this repertoire also goes down rather well with music lovers. One could even say that there is a kind of fascination for these two composers. One of the reasons could be that contemporaries stated that Antoine Forqueray's playing was affected by "the whimsical, fantastic and bizarre", as Emanuel Overbeeke writes in his liner-notes. And indeed, the music of the Forqueray's may root in the French tradition, it is far away from the formalism and restraint which was a feature of French culture under Louis XIV.

Much has been made about the difference in style and personality of Antoine Forqueray and his contemporary and 'rival' Marin Marais. A contemporary's comment about their respective playing styles - Marais playing like an angel, Forqueray like a devil - has been often quoted. It is true that Forqueray aimed at imitating the Italian violin music which grew in popularity in France in his lifetime. Marais, on the other hand, was generally considered a monument of the traditional French taste and was the hero of all music lovers who had a distaste for the Italian style. But in fact there isn't that much difference as many of Marais pieces for the viola da gamba are hardly less theatrical than Forqueray's. That said there is indeed a tendency in Forqueray's music to go for the bizarre, the extreme and often sharply contrasting effects and some pieces seem to have a strongly improvisatory quality. Performers who would like to let their hair down or just show their technical skills can hardly do anything wrong in Forqueray.

It is not just the music which appeals to the imagination, but also his character. It is known that he had a pretty disturbing marriage and that the relationship with other members of his family was rather bad. This contributes to the image of a rather difficult man who, according to his wife, was hotheaded. Otherwise we know frustratingly little about his life and his musical activities. It is even not certain that the music which is attributed to him, is indeed from his pen. It was published posthumously by his son, Jean-Baptiste, who was also a gambist. He simultaneously published versions for harpsichord solo. It is still a matter of debate whether the pieces which Jean-Baptiste presented as being written by his father are probably written by himself. He contributed three pieces of his own - La Angrave, La Du Vaucel and La Morangis ou La Plissay - but it is not impossible that he is also the composer of at least some of the other pieces in the collection. There is no doubt that a large part of Antoine's compositions has been lost.

As I wrote there is no lack of recordings of Forqueray's suites, either with gamba and bc or with harpsichord. This production has three interesting aspects. The first is that we get here specimens of both scorings. Only the Suite in d minor is performed by harpsichord alone. In the other two suites some movements are performed with gamba and bc, other in the version for harpsichord solo. Secondly, we not only get music from the edition of 1747, but also two single pieces by Antoine which survived in manuscript and were only published recently: a Musette and an Allemande. And lastly, we hear three pieces by a third member of the Forqueray family, Michel, Antoine's nephew: a prelude which is attributed to him and two airs, beautifully sung by Soetkin Elbers.

Christoph Urbanetz knows his way in Forqueray's oeuvre. He puts out all the stops in pieces like La Bouron and La Buisson from the Suite in G or in La Angrave. The Suite in c minor ends with Jupiter, a good example of a "bizarre" piece. It is brilliantly played by Urbanetz. There is another side to Forqueray as well: Jupiter is immediately preceded by La Silva, a piece of considerable depth. Introverted pieces such as the sarabande La Léon from the same suite or La Du Vaucel come across just as well. Through marked dynamic accents the rhythms of the various pieces are clearly exposed.

Magdalena Malec is a Polish harpsichordist and organist. I heard her first live during the 2011 Festival Early Music Utrecht. I very much liked her playing, and my positive impressions are confirmed by this recording. She is a very communicative player who fully explores the character of the music she performs. I like her gestural and speech-like style of playing, well-articulated and with a good differentiation between good and bad notes. She perfectly realises the strong contrasts in a piece like La Leclair from the Suite in G and delivers a theatrical performance of La Mandoline, played with the buff stop. The differentiations in the tempo are quite effective and the closing episode comes as a surprise. A quite dramatic piece is La Portugaise from the Suite in d minor, played with aplomb, as the composer ordered. La Cottin from the same suite is a totally different piece, to be played galamment, and that is also how Ms Malec plays it.

To sum up, this is a well-painted portrait of the Forqueray family. No matter how often you have heard it, this music is as compelling and fascinating as ever. The artists are excellent guides through the world of the Forqueray's.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Magdalena Malec
Christoph Urbanetz

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