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"Le Plaintif - Doleful Music of French Grand Siècle"


rec: May 6 - 9, 2019, Bergum, Kruiskerk
Brilliant Classics - 95694 (© 2020) (66'57")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1629-1691): Suite No. 2 in g minor (prélude; passacaille) [1]; François CAMPION (c1685-1747): Tombeau (allemande) in d minor [3]; Louis-Antoine DORNEL (c1680-after 1756): Suite in g minor, op. 1,1 (ouverture; air en loure) [5]; Suite in d minor, op. 1,3 (prélude; allemande; passacaille) [5]; Suite in d minor, op. 1,5 (Plainte) [5]; Suite in e minor, op. 1,6 (chaconne) [5]; Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE 'le Romain' (1674-1763): Suite in D, op. 2,3 (Rondeau tendre 'Le Plaintif') [4]; Suite in c minor, op. 5,2 (prélude [transposed to e minor]) [6]; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Suite No. 1 in C (sarabande) [2]; Suite No. 2a in g minor (prélude; Plainte; sarabande) [2]; Suite No. 4 in B flat (Plainte) [2]; Suite No. 5 in e minor (menuet; sarabande en rondeau) [2]; Michel Pignolet DE MONTÉCLAIR (1667-1737): 2e Concert in c minor (Plainte [transposed to d minor]) [8]; Pierre Danican PHILIDOR (1681-1731): Suite in e minor, op. 1,5 [7]

Sources: [1] Jean-Henry d'Anglebert, Pièces de clavecin, 1689; [2] Marin Marais, Pièces en Trio pour les Flutes, Violon, & Dessus de Viole, 1692; [3] François Campion, Nouvelles Découvertes sur la guitarre, 1705; [4] Jacques-Martin Hotteterre 'le Romain', Pièces pour la flûte traversiere et autres instruments […] livre premier, op. 2, 1708; [5] Louis-Antoine Dornel, Livre de Simphonies contenant six suittes en trio, 1709; [6] Jacques-Martin Hotteterre 'le Romain', Deuxième Livre de pièces pour la flûte traversiere et autres instruments, op. 5, 1715; [7] Pierre Danican Philidor, Premier Œuvre […] pour les hautbois, Flûtes, Violons, &c., 1717; [8] Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, Concerts pour la flûte traversiere avec la basse chiffrée, 1724

Erik Bosgraaf, recorder; Robert Smith, treble viol, bass viol; Israel Golani, theorbo; Izhar Elias, guitar; Alessandro Pianu, harpsichord

When I am going to listen to a review disc, I always start with reading the booklet. In the case of the present disc, that takes some time. It includes an essay of 21 pages, entitled "Pleurer sans mots" (weep without words). It is about "Forms of the Lament in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century", as its subtitle explains. Doleful music was frequently written in the baroque era, and such pieces are not only vocal (either sacred or secular), but also instrumental. That raises the question whether the lament was a kind of specific genre. On the basis of writings from the period, the author, Roberto Romagnino, concludes that the answer has to be negative. However, such pieces seem to have several features in common, and that can be explained from the fact that baroque music was rooted in classical rhetorics, going back to Cicero.

The main purpose of composers of the baroque era was to raise the passions of an audience. "In fact, the ability to move the audience (movere) has been the most important among the three missions of the orator (docere, delectare, movere) since the first century BC, when Cicero states in his Orator that "to demonstrate is necessary; to please is charming; to move is victory" (...). Rhetoric teaches precisely the art of exploiting the psychagogic (literally 'soul-guiding') capacity of passions, while also providing models to analyse the effect of discourse on its audience, as well as tools to bring out those same effects. Therefore, in an era imbued with as highly influential a rhetorical culture as the early modern period, on should not be surprised to find evidence of rhetoric's extensive influence over any given form of artistic expression".

That does not mean that it is easy to make a catalogue of features which are common to all pieces of a lamenting nature. Obviously, stylistic differences play a role here: laments from the 17th century are different from those of the 18th century, and there are quite some differences between French and Italian laments. That is partly due to a difference in attitude towards the display of emotions in the public sphere. As Emmanuel Davis and Barthold Kuijken write in the liner-notes to their disc "La Magnifique": "Life at the Court of Louis XIV was extremely prescribed. There were countless rules of conduct for every situation. Emotions, in particular, were to be kept under control. Even when people were seething or longing in their souls, on the surface they were to remain in control. Emotions, as deeply as they might be felt, were never to be on display. Proper etiquette must prevail!" Even in vocal music of the late 17th and early 18th centuries in France, when many operas included a plainte, the emotions are very restrained, and in no way comparable to the emotional outbursts we find in 17th-century Italian music.

The essay does not specifically discuss the music selected by Cordevento for their programme recorded for Brilliant Classics. Two kind of pieces of a lamenting nature are characteristic of French baroque music: the plainte and the tombeau. The first was a general expression of sadness on the side of one of the protagonists in an opera or a chamber cantata. The tombeau was a musical genre, in which a composer expressed his feelings about the death of a person in his environment: his teacher, a colleague, a friend, or a loved one. Whereas plaintes were usually included in a larger work, tombeaus were often separate pieces. In the course of time, they could be included in sonatas or suites, and the same happened with instrumental plaintes. That does not come out here, as the performers decided to isolate pieces from their context. Another feature of the programme is that most pieces don't bear the title of plainte or tombeau, but are comparable in vein anyway. That goes in particular for slow dances, such as allemandes and sarabandes, and these could also be used as a vehicle for a plainte or tombeau. An example is the Tombeau in d minor by François Campion.

One particular musical form figures prominently in the programme: the chaconne or passacaille. Repeated bass patterns, known as bassi ostinati, were very popular in the 17th and early 18th centuries across Europe. Numerous pieces of this kind can be found in vocal and instrumental music. Romagnino points out that many laments are written over a passacaglia bass: "a descending, sometimes chromatic, four-note bass-line pattern". "Its association with the scene of lamentation is so common that the educated listener of the time immediately identifies this pattern with the rhetorical-musical category of the lament: even just its brief appearance is enough to signal to the audience that they are going to hear a lament". This way, the passacaille - to use the French term - takes the character of a topos, a commonplace (in the neutral sense of the word). The programme offers several fine examples of this kind, for very different scorings. D'Anglebert's Passacaille in g minor is for harpsichord, the Passacaille in d minor by Louis-Antoine Dornel is taken from a suite for two treble instruments and basso continuo; the two instrumental parts are played here on recorder and treble viol. The same instruments play Dornel's Chaconne in e minor which closes the programme.

Those who fear that this programme is nothing but sorrow and misery: fear not. There are also pieces of a more uplifting nature, such as some preludes, and the ouverture and air en loure by Dornel, or the gigue that closes Philidor's Suite in e minor. However, it is often said that sad music is the best and the most beautiful, and there is certainly much truth in that. The programme offers superb specimens of what was written during the French Grand Siècle. Despite their restraint, the doleful nature of the selected pieces comes off perfectly.

That is also due to the very fine performances of these artists. Erik Bosgraaf is known as a brilliant recorder player, who often impresses with his virtuosity. That is a quality that is not required here. In this recording he shows a different side of his personality: great sensitivity in the use of the recorder for expressive purposes. Robert Smith is his perfect partner at the treble viol. This instrument enjoyed much popularity from the 1690s to the 1720s; here it plays parts that in most recordings are taken by violins. It is a nice alternative, and its sound makes it an ideal match for the recorder. There are some excellent contributions from Izhar Elias on the guitar (Campion) and Alessandro Pianu (d'Anglebert), and Israel Golani plays the theorbo in the basso continuo.

This disc is a perfect demonstration of expression à la française.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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