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Michel CORRETTE (1707 - 1795): "Les délices de la solitude - Sonatas Op. 20"

Opera Prima Ensemble
Dir: Cristiano Contadin

rec: July 14 - 15, 2015, Carceri (Padua), Abbazia di Santa Maria delle Carceri
Brilliant Classics - 95265 (© 2016) (57'48")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Concerto in D 'Le Phénix'a; Sonata in F, op. 20,1; Sonata in d minor, op. 20,2; Sonata in C, op. 20,3; Sonata in B flat, op. 20,4a; Sonata in G, op. 20,5; Sonata in D, op. 20,6a

Cristiano Contadin, viola da gamba; Federico Toffano, cello; François de Rudder, bassoon; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord, organ; Gian Michele Constantin, organa

One of the features of the 18th century is the dissemination of domestic music making. An increasing number of people from the higher echelons of society wanted to play music at home with family and friends. As a result there was a large demand for music which was musically interesting but technically not too challenging. Among the composers who responded to this demand were Georg Philipp Telemann in Germany and Joseph Bodin de Boismortier and Michel Corrette in France.

Obviously the people who played such music were amateurs. They needed to learn to play an instrument and in addition to taking lessons from professional teachers they were interested in treatises which gave them information on how to play an instrument or to interpret music correctly, for instance with regard to ornamentation. This explains why in the 18th century so many treatises were published, probably more than in any other era in history. One of the most prolific authors of such treatises was Michel Corrette. Between 1737 and 1784 he published no fewer than twenty treasises, most of which have been preserved and still give today's performers much information about playing techniques and interpretation in the 18th century.

In 1766 Corrette published Les délices de la solitude, including a set of six sonatas and a concise treatise on playing the cello. The sonatas had been published before: they were first printed around 1739 under the same title with the opus number 20. Musicologists have not been able to discover as yet why Corrette chose this title ("the delights of solitude") for these sonatas. The work-list in New Grove is a little confusing with regard to the scoring and so are the liner-notes in the booklet to the present recording. It is suggested that they are scored for cello, viola da gamba, bassoon and bc. But the title page of the 1739 edition mentions these instruments, separated by commas, which in this case have to be interpreted as slashes, indicating alternatives. The notation is for one instrument and bc which proves that these pieces are solo sonatas rather than quartets. In this recording the viola da gamba takes the melody line in all the sonatas. The cello and the bassoon are only involved in the performance of the basso continuo and don't participate in every sonata.

The choice of the viola da gamba may surprise, considering that they seem to be intended for the cello. However, they were first published in a time that the cello was still developing in a kind of competition with the viola da gamba. Since the discovery of Italian music in France the cello enjoyed an increasing popularity but in the late 1730s, when these sonatas were first printed, it was still a relatively new instrument and many amateurs continued to play the viola da gamba. Moreover, offering alternative scorings was a kind of sales promotion. Therefore the various instruments mentioned have to be considered alternatives: in addition to the viola da gamba and the cello they could also be played on the bassoon.

The sonatas also reflect the growing popularity of Italian music. They are all in three or four movements and the titles are all in Italian, such as affettuoso or allegro staccato. Even the dances have Italian titles: corrente and sarabanda. The Sonata No. 4 closes with the only movement with a French title: bruit de chasse, but stylistically it is very Italian.

This set has been recorded before on the cello. This performance on the viola da gamba is a real alternative. From a historical point of view the cello is the more obvious choice, but musically speaking these sonatas come off just as well on the viola da gamba. Cristiano Contadin is a very fine player of this instrument and in his hands these sonatas really come to life. The line-up in the basso continuo is different which creates some variety. This disc also demonstrates that the fact that Corrette was such a prolific composer, especially of music for amateurs, cannot used against him. This is really good stuff and there is every reason to be happy that Corrette is taken more seriously these days.

Lovers of the viola da gamba, especially, are well advised to investigate this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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