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Joseph Bodin DE BOISMORTIER (1689 - 1755): "Sonatas Opp. 44 & 91, Suites Op. 35"

Musica ad Rhenum

rec: Nov 6 - 7a & Dec 11 - 12b, 2015, Velp (NL), Klooster Emmaüs; July 6 - 7, 2016, Mijnsheerenland (NL), Laurentiuskerk
Brilliant Classics - 95366 (3 CDs) (© 2017) (2.59'30")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores op. 35
Scores op. 44

CD 1a
6 Suites for transverse flute and bc op. 35: Suite No. 1 in e minor; Suite No. 2 in G; Suite No. 3 in g minor; Suite No. 4 in D; Suite No. 5 in b minor; Suite No. 6 in A
CD 2b
6 Sonatas for transverse flute and bc op. 44: Sonata No. 1 in D; Sonata No. 2 in b minor; Sonata No. 3 in G; Sonata No. 4 in e minor; Sonata No. 5 in A; Sonata No. 6 in g minor
CD 3c
6 Sonatas for harpsichord and transverse flute op. 91: Sonata No. 1 in D; Sonata No. 2 in g minor; Sonata No. 3 in G; Sonata No. 4 in e minor; Sonata No. 5 in A; Sonata No. 6 in c minor

Sources: Six Suites de Pieces pour une Flute traversiere seule, op. 35, 1731; Six Sonates pour la Flûte traversiere avec la Basse, op. 44, 1733; VI Sonates pour clavecin et une flûte traversière, op. 91, 1741?

Jed Wentz, transverse flute; Cassandra Luckhardt, viola da gambaa; Job ter Haar, cellob; Michael Borgstede, harpsichord

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was one of the most productive composers of 18th-century France. Unlike most of his colleagues he was never in the service of an employer, which gave him maximum freedom to compose whatever he liked. Just like his German contemporary Telemann he composed most of his instrumental music for amateurs. This explains why the transverse flute takes such an important place in the oeuvre of both composers, as this was the most popular instrument among amateurs across Europe. However, other instruments also enjoyed his interest: he composed music for almost every instrument in vogue in his time. In addition he wrote treatises for the flute and the descant viol, but these are unfortunately lost. His productivity as a composer did not earn him universal praise. Some considered his music easy and superficial. A contemporary song included this line about him: "Lucky Boismortier, whose fertile pen effortlessly brings forth a new volume every month".

Jed Wentz and his ensemble Musica ad Rhenum have recorded three collections of chamber music from different stages in Boismortier's career, which explains their different features. The first disc includes the six suites for transverse flute and basso continuo op. 35, which were published in 1731. The title page says that these suites can be played without basso continuo and include all the ornaments. The latter attests to the pedagogical aspect of many collections of music written by Boismortier and colleagues, such as Michel Corrette. These works are written in a purely French style. The number of movements varies from four to six, and all the titles are in French. Every suite opens with a prélude with the tempo indication lentement. A number of movements are dances, such as gavotte, menuet, gigue and sarabande. There are also some character pieces: the third movement from the Suite No. 1 is called Les Charites, followed by L'Emerveillée. The former has the structure of a rondeau; this was a form which gained great popularity in the course of the 18th century; it appears seven times in these suites. Notable is the absence of any chaconne or passacaille, which in previous times was a fixed part of almost every composition or collection of music as well as operas.

The second disc is consists the six sonatas op. 44, which were published only two years later, in 1733. Boismortier was an early advocate of the Italian style. In 1727 he had published a set of six concertos for five flutes without accompaniment as his op. 15. This was the first time that he used the Italian word concerto. The sonatas op. 44 are all in four movements, each of which has an Italian title, referring to the tempo: adagio, andante, allegro, vivace, presto. The first sonata includes a siciliana, three sonatas have an aria as their third movement, two of them with the addition affettuoso. The only dance movements are the giga, which closes the sonatas 2 and 6, and the gavotta, the last movement of the fifth sonata. The fast movements are very virtuosic and must have been a great challenge for the amateurs of those days. The arias are themes with variations and are technically more restrained. These sonatas are an impressive testimony to the influence of the Italian style in France in the third quarter of the 18th century.

The suites op. 35 and the sonatas op. 44 are little known; the latter seems not to have been recorded complete before now. In contrast, the sonatas op. 91 are pretty well known and have been recorded several times. They were printed in 1741/42; at the same time Jean-Philippe Rameau published his Pièces de clavecin en concert. Both were probably inspired by the sonatas for harpsichord and violin opus 3 by Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville which appeared in 1734. The novelty of that opus was the independence of the harpsichord, which was no longer reduced to playing the basso continuo. Whereas Rameau's Pièces de clavecin en concert are scored for harpsichord, violin and viola da gamba (or alternative instruments), Boismortier wrote his sonatas for harpsichord and flute. This set of six sonatas was dedicated to Michel Blavet, the most famous player of the flute at the time. This is an indication that they were not intended for amateurs. That is confirmed by the character of the harpsichord part which is no less demanding than Rameau's harpsichord part in the Pièces de clavecin en concert or the suites by Forqueray or Duphly. Boismortier makes use of several techniques which were becoming fashionable, like the crossing of the hands, especially known from the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti.

Jed Wentz is well known for his strong interest in performance practice and especially tempo and the free treatment of it. In fact, he is so focused on that subject that his liner-notes are almost entirely devoted to it and that he hardly pays any attention to the music itself. That's a bit of a shame.

Considering that Boismortier's music, with the exception of the sonatas op. 91 and the above-mentioned concertos for five flutes, is not that well known, this set is most welcome from every perspective. However, Wentz's approach makes it even more desirable. As always he delivers compelling and often even exciting performances. The differences between the op. 35 suites and the two collections of sonatas come off clearly. His slowing down and speeding up within single movements as well as the strong contrasts between movements create a strong sense of drama. He also states in his liner-notes that French players were used to playing pretty loudly. Obviously that is much harder to realise on a recording, as the listener can manipulate the volume and it is impossible to know which volume the interpreters intended. It is not just Wentz who makes a strong impression here. His colleagues are just as good, and I have to mention in particular Michael Borgstede for his brilliant realisation of the harpsichord part in the sonatas op. 91.

This set is very well suited to refute the prejudice that Boismortier composed only easy and fashionable stuff without much substance. The music performed here proves otherwise, but it needs really outstanding and compelling performances. And that is exactly what we get here.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Jed Wentz

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