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Joseph Bodin DE BOISMORTIER (1689 - 1755): "The Court and the Village - Chamber Music"

Cappella Musicale Enrico Stuart

rec: Jan 14 - 16, 2019, Monte Compatri, Palazzo Annibaldeschi
Brilliant Classics - 96036 (© 2019) (66'41")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

2e Suite in d minor, op. 59,3 (La Rustique) [7]; 2e Suite in e minor, op. 17,2 [1]; 3e Suite in e minor, op. 59,3 (La Puce) [7]; 4e Balet in G, op. 52,4 [6]; 5e Suite in E, op. 31,5 [2]; Concerto in D, op. 38,1 [5]; Concerto in e minor, op. 38,2 [5]; Concerto à 5 parties in e minor, op. 37,6 [4]; Sonata in D, op. 37,3 [4]; Sonata à 4 parties in e minor, op. 34,3 [3]

[1] 6 Suites à 2 Muzettes, qui conviennent aux vieles, flûtes-a-bec, traversieres, & haubois, op. 17, 1727; [2] Diverses pièces de viole avec la basse chifrée, op. 31, 1730; [3] Six Sonates à quatre parties différentes et égalment travailées. Pour 3 Flutes trav. Violõs, ou autres Instrumens, avec la Basse. Le Ier Dessus peut se jouer sur la Flute à bec, en cas de besoin, op. 34, 1731; [4] V Sonates en trio, pour un dessus et deux basses, suivies d'un concerto a cinq parties, op. 37, 1732; [5] VI Concerto pour 2 flûtes traversières sans basse, op. 38, 1732; [6] IV Balets de Village en trio, op. 52, 1734; [7] Quatre suites de pièces de clavecin, op. 59, 1736

Carolina Pace, recorder; Romeo Ciuffa, recorder, transverse flute; Chiara Strabioli, transverse flute; Enrique Gómez-Cabrero Fernández, violin; Andrea Latturolo, viola da gamba; Michele Carreca, theorbo; Marco Vitale, harpsichord

The music of Joseph Bodin de Boismortier seems to be quite popular these days. In recent years various discs with chamber music of different kinds have crossed my path. This is probably not surprising, considering the size and versatility of his oeuvre. However, for a long time his music, intended for amateurs, was not taken that seriously by professional performers, as it was considered too easy and rather superficial. The more of his oeuvre appears on disc, the more it becomes clear that this assessment is not justified. It is rather remarkable how well Boismortier explored the possibilities of the various instruments.

The fact that he composed his music for amateurs explains why he either left the choice of instruments to the performers, which means that they could use what was at their disposal, or offered several alternatives on the title pages of the printed editions. Don't be surprised if you find some of the pieces on the present disc in other recordings in performances with different instruments or combinations of instruments. That said, the transverse flute plays a key role in Boismortier's output, as this was in his time the most popular instrument among amateurs.

Boismortier's versatility comes perfectly to the fore here. Boismortier is not ranked among the main composers for the viola da gamba. One won't find his name on the programmes of the gambists of our time. However, his oeuvre includes several collections of pieces for a low instrument, either viola da gamba, cello or bassoon, and even an opus which is specifically intended for the viol. From this Op. 31, printed in 1730, Andrea Lattarulo plays the 5e Suite in E. The same goes for the harpsichord. One does not think of Boismortier, if one is going to list the major composers for keyboard during the first half of the 18th century in France. In 1736 he published a set of four suites for harpsichord as his opus 59; Marco Vitale selected two pieces from his Suites Nos. 2 and 3 respectively. Both are character pieces, as was common at the time.

A typical Boismortier collection is the Op. 34. It came from the press in 1731 and is scored for four parts, three melody instruments and basso continuo. The title pages says that these sonatas can be played on three transverse flutes or violins, "or other instruments". Interestingly, it is added that the first melody part can be played on the recorder, "if that is necessary". This indicates that the recorder was well on its way out and was largely overshadowed by the transverse flute, but that it was still played by amateurs. From this collection the ensemble plays the Sonata in e minor on two transverse flutes and violin.

The Op. 37 is another interesting collection. It was printed in 1732 and includes five trio sonatas for a treble instrument and a bass; the Sonata in D is performed here on violin and viola da gamba. The set ends with a concerto in five parts: the four melody parts are specifically scored for flute, oboe, violin and bassoon. Even so, the performance on the present disc, with recorder, transverse flute, violin and viola da gamba, is fully legitimate. The recording of this piece is important as it is often omitted as it requires a larger scoring than the sonatas of this set.

Pieces for melody instruments without basso continuo were quite popular among amateurs, as not everyone could afford a harpsichord or such an instrument was not always available. Duets were particularly popular, and in the oeuvre of Boismortier we find several collections of such pieces. This programme includes two: the Concerto in D, op. 38,1 is performed on two transverse flutes, the Concerto in e minor from the same set on recorder and violin, and the 2e Suite in e minor from the Op. 17 on two recorders. The latter was intended for the musette, a fashionable instrument of Boismortier's time, but again he suggests alternatives, among them recorders.

The disc ends with a piece from the Op. 52, which is a bit different from most of Boismortier's collections. It comprises four balets de village en trio; they are intended for "musettes, vièles, flutes à-bec, violons, haubois ou flutes traversières". However, the fact that musettes and vièles are mentioned first, and the character of the pieces seem to indicate that these are the instruments for which these ballets are intended in the first place. It is also notable that the score includes the indications seul (solo) and tous (tutti). This suggests a performance with a larger ensemble, as in an Italian concerto grosso. That is the way the whole set has been recorded by Le Concert Spirituel (Naxos, 1997). Here we have probably something in the middle of both options, as the ensemble plays it with four melody instruments.

I am quite happy with most of the Boismortier discs I have heard in recent years. However, among them the present disc is probably the best. I have greatly enjoyed the ensemble's way of playing. They take this music seriously and deliver energetic performances. However, they also show that Boismortier's music is not devoid of expression. The adagio from the Sonata in e minor, op. 34,3 is a good example. I also appreciate the variety in the way they have put together the programme and their choice of instruments for the various items. This disc is the best possible introduction to the oeuvre of Boismortier.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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Cappella Musicale Enrico Stuart

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