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Jean-Baptiste BARRIÈRE, Bernard DE BURY: "Sonates et Suites pour le clavecin"

Luca Quintavalle, harpsichord

rec: July 22 - 25a October 14 - 16b, 2016, Mülheim an der Ruhr (D), Evangelische Kirche an der Wilhelminenstrasse Mülheim-Broich
Brilliant Classics - 95428 (2 CDs) (© 2017) (2.39'40")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Barrière
Scores Bury

Jean-Baptiste BARRIÈRE (1707-1747)a: La Boucon; La Casamajor; La Duchesne; La Dupont; La Plancy; La Tribolet; Sonata No. 1 in b minor; Sonata No. 2 in D; Sonata No. 3 in e minor; Sonata No. 4 in G; Sonata No. 5 in B flat; Sonata No. 6 in a minor
Bernard DE BURY (1720-1785)b: Première Suite in A; Seconde Suite in C; Troisième Suite in G; Quatrième Suite in E

This set of discs is quite interesting: it brings together two French composers from the first half of the 18th century who are little known. That is to say: Jean-Baptiste Barrière is fairly well known, but almost exclusively as a pioneer of the cello in France. It is remarkable that the two collections which Luca Quintavalle has recorded were published at about the same time, but are stylistically very different.

Barrière was from Bordeaux and worked in Paris in 1730 as Musicien ordinaire de notre Académie Royale de Musique. In 1733 he was granted a privilege to publish sonatas and other instrumental works. He studied for some time in Italy, but there are different opinions on exactly when he was there. It is not that relevant from a musical point of view, because right from the start the Italian influence in his compositions is clearly discernible. His first two books with six sonatas each were printed in Paris in 1733 and 1735 respectively; these were followed in 1739 and 1740 by the third and fourth book. These collections show an increase in technical complexity and the last two books attest to Barrière's full embracing of the Italian style.

In 1739 he also published a book - as Livre V - for the pardessus de viole, the descant viol. It comprises six sonatas, the first five of which were also included in the book of harpsichord music which was published in the same year. These are not merely transcriptions but reworkings for a completely different instrument, including additional ornamentation, elaboration and idiomatic runs. These sonatas follow the Corellian trio sonata model: they comprise four movements in the order slow - fast - slow - fast. Barrière added a sixth sonata in three movements: andante - largetto (sic) - aria amoroso.

Their Italian character not only comes to the fore in the use of the form of the sonata. In fact, Barrière was the first French composer to write sonatas for keyboard. A further Italian trait is that the movements have exclusively Italian titles: adagio, allegro, andante, grave, largo, aria. The only dance included here is a sarabanda in the Sonata No. 2 in D. However, the most important token of Italian influence is the music itself. There are Neapolitan influences, but also references to the music of Vivaldi and Domenico Scarlatti. Some movements are quite dramatic; one of the most notable examples is the adagio which opens the Sonata No. 4 in G.

Barrière's harpsichord sonatas have little to do with tradition. Only one part of the Sonates et pièces can be connected to the French harpsichord school. The six pièces are character pieces as we know them from the oeuvre of, for instance, François Couperin. However, stylistically they are much closer to such pieces by the likes of Forqueray and especially his contemporary Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer (1705 - 1755). In the preface to his Premier Livre de pièces pour clavecin of 1746 Royer stated that "[the] pieces are open to great variety, passing from the tender to the lively, from the simple to the tumultuous, often successively within the same piece". That is the case with Barrière's character pieces as well; some indeed can be counted among the 'tumultuous', such as La Casamajor.

It is remarkable that the harpsichord pieces of the younger Bernard de Bury are more conservative than Barrière's. Much more than in the pieces by the latter we notice François Couperin's influence. His Premier livre de pièces de clavecin which dates from around 1736 includes several pieces whose titles are identical or almost identical with titles in the four harpsichord books of Couperin.

Bury came from a musical family; his father was ordinaire de la musique du roi. He spent his entire life and career in Versailles. He took several positions at the court; as maître de chapelle he succeeded his teacher Colin de Blamont, to whom he dedicated his harpsichord book. In 1785 he was ennobled by Louis XVI, five months before his death. In addition to his harpsichord works he composed music for the stage which found a positive reception.

Despite some Italian traits in his harpsichord music - just like in Couperin's ordres - his keyboard music is very French. The book comprises four suites of different lengths which include almost exclusively character pieces. The only exception is the loure in the 3e Suite in G. The chaconne which closes the 4e Suite in E and the entire collection, is one of the most telling tokens of this book's being part of the French tradition: hardly an opera was written without a chaconne and virtually every suite for keyboard or for an instrumental ensemble included a chaconne. There is no watershed between dances and character pieces: several of the latter were written in the form of a dance, or perhaps we should say that dances were given titles to indicate an extra-musical meaning. In the 1e Suite in A, for instance, we find a sarabande with the title Les Regrets. A form which Bury frequently uses is the rondeau, which was becoming increasingly popular in France around the mid-18th century.

Bury's harpsichord works have been recorded before, but are hardly known; they also seldom appear on programmes of recitals. As far as I know only a couple of pieces from Barrière's collection are available on disc; this is probably the first complete recording. I find that rather surprising, considering their quality and their historical importance. That makes this set a significant addition to the discography. This repertoire is served very well by Luca Quintavalle who delivers energetic and stylish performances. The brilliance of Barrières pieces and the different features of Bury's harpsichord works is convincingly conveyed. He plays a splendid instrument: a copy of a harpsichord by Pierre Donzelague of 1711. The miking is just right: it reveals enough details without losing the overall picture.

There is just one issue I need to mention. There is too little space between the pieces: the first movement of a sonata or a suite follows the last movement of the previous work almost attacca. That is an unlucky negligence on the side of the production team.

Considering the importance of the repertoire and the quality of music and interpretation this production deserves a strong recommendation.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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