musica Dei donum
"A French Soirée"
rec: August 10 - 14, 2010, Evanston, Ill., Music Institute of Chicago (Nichols Concert Hall)
Cedille Records - CDR 90000 129 (© 2011) (78'55")
Cover & track-list
François COUPERIN (1668-1733):
Concert Royal No. 3 in A ;
Nouveau Concert No. 7 in g minor (allemande; sarabande; gavotte; sicilienne) ;
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687):
Flore, ballet (LWV 40) (Entrée pour Vertumne; Entrée pour les Jardiniers et quatre Galants; Entrée pour les Galants et les Dames; Menuet pour les mêmes);
Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764):
Sonata for violin and bc in G, op. 5,12 ;
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728):
Pièces de viole, 1er livre (prélude; chaconne) ;
Pièces de viole, 3e livre (La Guitare) ;
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764):
Pièces de clavecin en concert No. 4 in B flat ;
Jean-Fery REBEL (1666-1747):
Sonata for violin and bc in d, op. 2,8 
Marin Marais,  Pièces à une et à deux violes, 1686;
 Pièces à une et à deux violes, 3e livre, 1711;
 Jean-Fery Rebel, Sonates, 1713;
François Couperin,  Concerts Royaux, 1722;
 Les Goûts-Réünis ou Nouveaux Concerts, 1724;
 Jean-Marie Leclair, Troisième livre de sonates, op. 5, 1734;
 Jean-Philippe Rameau, Pieces de clavecin en concerts, 1741
Rachel Barton Pine, violin;
John Mark Rozendaal, viola da gamba;
David Schrader, harpsichord
If one reads the booklet of this disc one could get the impression of the artists thinking that the listener is largely unfamiliar with French baroque music. In a personal note Rachel Barton Pine describes how much effort it took to get used to the low pitch which is needed in this repertoire. She also explains why French music is so sporadically played on modern instruments. One just wonders how many musicians and ensembles are still playing baroque music on modern instruments. She states that listening to French baroque music is like "stepping into a fantasy world of elegance and opulence". I suspect many listeners dwell regularly in that world, and this disc has nothing really new in store for them. Maybe this disc is first and foremost aimed at the American market and is the situation a bit different there than, for instance, in Europe. Over the last decade or so many discs of French baroque music have been released. There is hardly a need to introduce the listener to the world of Lully, Couperin or Rameau.
So, there is is nothing really new here. As far as I can see all the pieces on the programme have been recorded before. That in itself shouldn't prevent artists like the members of the Trio Settecento to record them. Even so, I would have liked to see a more adventurous programming. The Pièces de clavecin en concerts by Rameau are available in a number of recordings, and so are the concertos by Couperin. The least-known music could be the movements from the ballet Flore by Lully. Unfortunately they get the least satisfying performance, as they are scored for orchestra. This pocket-d performance hardly does justice to the grandeur of Lully's ballet music. After all, as John Mark Rozendaal writes in his liner-notes, Louis XIV himself took part in the performance as a dancer.
The four dances from Lully's ballet open the Divertissement which comes first on the disc. These are followed by pieces by Couperin and Marais, excerpts from larger works which are quite well-known. Whether you like Ms Pine's tone is a matter of taste, but the playing is too rigid and straightforward to my ears. I would have liked a more differentiated approach, with dynamic accents and a stronger differentiation between the notes. That way the dance rhythms would have come off better.
The sonatas by Rebel and Leclair are by far the most interesting parts of this disc. They show the effects of the grow of the Italian style on violin composition in France. Both sonatas include multiple-stopping which is very rare in older French violin music. The Italian influence also leads to dramatic traits. These are effectively realised by the Trio Settecento. Particularly nice is the tremolo in the second movement of Leclair's Sonata in G, op. 5,12. But here again I would have liked the music to really breathe. In the corrente from Rebel's Sonata in d, op. 2,8, for instance, there are hardly breathing spaces between the phrases. It just goes on and on relentlessly. In the baroque era music was compared with speech. Performances such as these make you lose your breath.
There can be no doubt about the good intentions and the enthusiasm of the performers, nor about their great technical skills. But this music needs a more relaxed and more imaginative approach.
The notes by Rozendaal are informative, but the documentation is poor: the pieces by Couperin and Marais in the Divertissement and the sonatas by Rebel and Leclair are not identified. I have added the necessary information by using various sites on the internet.
Johan van Veen (© 2012)