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Gaspard LE ROUX (1660 - 1707): "Complete Harpsichord Music"

Pieter-Jan Belder, Siebe Henstra, harpsichord

rec: Feb 2015, Velp (Grave) (NL), Klooster Emmaüs (chapel)
Brilliant Classics - 95245 (2 CDs) (© 2016) (1.44'45")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Suite in D minor/major; Suite in F; Suite in f sharp minor; Suite in g minor; Suite in A minor/major

Source: Pièces de Clavessin, 1705

Gaspard Le Roux belongs to the generation of French clavecinistes after d'Anglebert and Louis Couperin. He must have been held in high esteem: in 1696 the newspaper Mercure de France called him a "famous music teacher". On the basis of the taxes he paid we have to conclude that he was quite prosperous. It seems likely that he earned his money as a teacher of members of the highest echelons of society. However, his life is surrounded by mystery. We know next to nothing about his career; we also don't know when or where he was born. He probably was still quite young when he died. The Pièces de clavecin which were printed in 1705 includes a preface in which he promises to publish more if these pieces were received well, but as he died only two years later this collection is all which has come down to us. In addition one air de cour and one motet can be attributed to him.

The fact that in his preface he complains about the fact that faulty copies of his harpsichord pieces were circulating is further proof that his music was highly appreciated. The collection comprises 47 pieces; 41 of these are grouped according to keys. These are called suites in the present recording but are not named as such in the edition. Four of these 'suites' open with a prélude non mesuré which was already out of fashion at the time of printing. That is reflected by the "engraver's obvious puzzlement with their free, whole-note-only notation", Glen Wilson writes in the liner-notes to his recording (Naxos, 2006).

The rest of these suites is 'conventional': sequences of dances and some character pieces. The fact that the movements are predominantly dances and that some suites include several dances of the same type indicates that these pieces stylistically belong to the 17th century. The Suite in D minor/major includes only two character pieces: the allemande la Vauvert and the allemande grave la Lorenzany. The Suite in a minor/major also includes an allemande with a title, l'Incomparable. The Suite in F has a chaconne, one of the most popular forms in French music of the 17th century, and a menuet with two doubles. The addition of one or more doubles was also quite popular; the same happens in the Suite in f sharp minor where the courante has a double. The Suite in g minor includes one character piece, La bel-ébat, and a "piece without a title". The most remarkable piece is a sarabande with twelve variations. Glen Wilson calls it "the most brilliant set of Italianate variations of the entire French harpsichord school, on a Sarabande closely resembling the Folies d'Espagne. Indeed, this is his answer to Corelli's famous Follia, and to that of d'Anglebert".

The most notable feature of this collection is that Le Roux offers alternatives to performances on one harpsichord. The duo versions are notated under the solo version. This way these piece can be played either on two harpsichords or as ensemble pieces for two treble instruments and bc. The latter is the least-known version: I can find only one recording, by the Ensemble Variations (Accord, 2009). In contrast, there are quite some recordings of these pieces either on one or on two harpsichords. Pieter-Jan Belder and Siebe Henstra have opted for a mixture of different ways of performing. The Suite in d minor/major is played by one harpsichord; at some stages the second harpsichord enters as a kind of ripieno in a concerto. The Suite in F and the Suite in g minor are played solo. The latter ends with two pieces for two harpsichords: a gigue - the only piece explicitly referred to as being intended for two harpsichords - and a repeat of the courante, this time played on two harpsichords.

In his liner-notes Pieter-Jan Belder explains that the way the music has been notated leaves much freedom to the interpreters. Every performance has improvisational traits and that makes every interpretation different. As a consequence it is rather pointless to compare individual recordings. These performances by Belder and Henstra are superb, for instance with regard to ornamentation and the application of notes inégales. Their individual interpretations are excellent and their harmonious cooperation results in highly captivating accounts of these scores. This set of discs impressively documents the quality of Gaspard Le Roux and justifies the interest in his music.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Pieter-Jan Belder
Siebe Henstra

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