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Jean-Baptiste (John) LOEILLET (1680 - 1730): "Trio Sonatas"

Epoca Barocca

rec: Jan 26 - 28, 2017, Neumarkt (D), Historischer Reitstadel
CPO - 555 143-2 (© 2019) (61'10")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata in F, op. 1,1a; Sonata in g minor, op. 1,3b; Sonata in c minor, op. 1,5a; Sonata in F, op. 2,2a; ; Sonata in d minor, op. 2,4b; ; Sonata in c minor, op. 2,6a

Sources: Sonatas for Variety of Instruments, op. 1, 1722; 12 Sonatas in Three Parts, op. 2, c1725

Eva Morsbach, recordera, transverse fluteb; Alessandro Piqué, oboe; Katrin Lazar, bassoon; Klaus Dieter Brandt, cello; Daniele Caminiti, theorbo; Andrea Perugi, harpsichord, organ

In the 1970s, Dutch and Belgian radio broadcast a series about the Loeillet family, a Flemish dynasty of performing musicians and composers. Compositions by members of that family were performed by then leading players, such as the Kuijken brothers. As far as I know these recordings were never released on disc. At the time Loeillet wasn't exactly a household name, and unfortunately not much has changed. Their music still does not appear regularly on concert programmes and on CD. That is all the more remarkable as the Loeillets have written quite a lot for the recorder, and recorder players always complain about a lack of repertoire.

The article on 'Loeillet' in New Grove mentions six different musicians. The eldest is Pieter, who lived from 1651 to 1735 and was active as violinist and concertmaster. One of his sons was Jean-Baptiste, who called himself 'Loeillet de Gant' (Ghent). The other Jean-Baptiste was Pieter's nephew, and called himself 'John Loeillet of London', since he settled in the English capital around 1705.

The latter Loeillet is mentioned as a member of the Drury Lane orchestra in 1707. A couple of years later he played as flautist and oboist in the orchestra of the Queen's Theatre at the Haymarket. At about the same time he started to organize concerts at his home. It is here that the concerti grossi by Corelli received their first performance in England. This way Loeillet paid tribute to the Corellimania which had England in its grasp. It was not just Corelli's music which was very popular and was played across the country by musical societies. Music lovers and players embraced the Italian style at large, and this explains the popularity of Italian opera in the first half of the 18th century.

Loeillet's musical education in the southern Netherlands may have been largely French in scope, but in England he turned to the Italian style in his compositions. The two collections of trio sonatas, from which Epoca Barocca has selected six, bear witness to that. In 1722 he published a set of six trio sonatas "for Variety of Instruments". Three of these are for two transverse flutes, the other three for 'common flute' and oboe or violin. 'Common flute' was one of the names given to the recorder, which is played here in the Sonatas 1 and 5, whereas in Sonata No. 3 Epoca Barocca opted for the transverse flute. Although Loeillet modelled these sonatas after Corelli's trio sonatas, he takes some liberties, for instance in the number and order of movements. The Sonata in F closes with a sequence of three sections: gavotte - aria - allegro. The gavotte is a French dance, and the aria is for flute alone, which repeats the gavotte in the minor. In the Sonata in c minor the central movement is again in three sections: a poco largo is followed by a short adagio, full of Italian pathos, turning attacca into an andante. The closing movement of the Sonata in g minor is dominated by short motifs in the oboe, which are then repeated by the flute.

Around 1725 a second set of trio sonatas by Loeillet came from the press. This collection comprised twelve sonatas. Six were scored for two violins, three for two 'German flutes' (meaning transverse flutes) and three for oboe and 'common flute', all with basso continuo. The latter sonatas are performed here, and again two are played at the recorder (Nos. 2 and 6) and No. 4 at the transverse flute. Here Loeillet sticks more strictly to Corelli's form of the sonata da chiesa: all three are in four movements in the order slow - fast - slow - fast. The Sonata in F closes with an allegro, which is in fact a menuet with trio; the latter is a solo for the flute. The second movement of the Sonata in d minor is dominated by birdsong figures; it is followed by a pathetic adagio.

John Loeillet has not left a very large oeuvre. In addition to these two sets of trio sonatas, he published another set of twelve for two flutes and two recorders respectively as his Op. 3, as well as nine Lessons for harpsichord. The sonatas played here and other sonatas I have heard in previous recordings show that he was a fine composer who mastered the Italian style and was able to provide the amateurs of his days with nice music to play at home. As these sonatas offer different options with regard to the scoring, virtually every chamber ensemble can find here some attractive music to include in their concerts. It is to be hoped that John Loeillet's sonatas will be performed more often.

Epoca Barocca likes to perform and record lesser-known repertoire, and they deserve praise for that. It is probably not the most imaginative ensemble as far as the interpretation is concerned. The performances on this disc are very solid and enjoyable. Sometimes I would have liked a faster tempo and, especially in the slow movements, more dynamic differentation, for instance on long notes. However, if you want to add something unfamiliar to your collection, this is a disc to consider. I am sure you will enjoy what is on offer here.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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