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Pierre FÉVRIER (1696 - 1760): Pièces de clavecin

Charlotte Mattax Moersch, harpsichord

rec: Jan 4 - 5, 2010, Urbana, Ill., Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (Foellinger Great Hall)
Centaur - CRC 3084/85 (2 CDs) (© 2010) (1.32'33")
Liner-notes: E

1e Suite [1]; 1e Suite [2]; 2e Suite [1]; 2e Suite [2]; 3e Suite [1]; 4e Suite [1]

Sources: [1] Pièces de clavecin, Premier Livre, 1734; [2] Pièces de clavecin, Deuxième Livre, c1735

The American harpsichordist Charlotte Mattax Moersch deserves much praise for recording the keyboard music of the little-known French composer Pierre Février. The quality of his music is remarkable and he deserves to be much better-known. Hopefully this disc will contribute to a more frequent performance of his music.

Février was born in Abbeville into a family of musicians. His father and several other members of his family were organists. He was educated at the organ as well, and also at the violin. In 1720 he moved to Paris where he held positions as organist in various churches. He was also active as harpsichord teacher. One of his pupils was Claude-Bénigne Balbastre.

Février's Pièces de clavecin are remarkable for several reasons. Two of the suites from the first book open with a fugue which is quite unusual in French keyboard repertoire. According to David Fuller in New Grove these fugues are "very nearly the only ones in French harpsichord music". The German composer and theorist Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg characterised them as "beautiful fugues in the style of Handel". There is also clear influence from Rameau, in the pieces with doubles but in particular in two pieces from the second book, 'Les Liens Harmoniques' (1e Suite) and 'Les Croisades' (2e Suite). Some performers hold the view that French music is a bit superficial, but that certainly doesn't go for these suites by Février.To quote David Fuller again: "There is a quality of earnestness, of care taken, which is absent from the music of his lesser colleagues and is concealed by the elegant artifice of his greater ones." That comes off very well in this recording.

The first disc is devoted to the first book, comprising four suites of different length. The 1e Suite contains six pieces, beginning with the 'allemande La Magnanime'. It is the only piece by Février whose title could refer to a person. Fuller suggests Countess de La Marck could have been meant, to whom Février dedicated a cantata and whom he may have given harpsichord lessons. It is followed by 'Le Concert des Dieux', a rondeau with the indication "doucement et tendrement". Such indications - or "gracieusement" and "avec sentiment" - appear frequently in Février's suites and underline the sense of seriousness in his music. It is in particular this aspect which Ms Mattax realises to the full. But there is also another side to Février: this suite ends with 'La Boufonne ou la Paysanne', with the indication "pésamment", in English "plump", and that is exactly how Ms Mattax plays it.

The 2e Suite begins with a fugue, followed by a courante - one of the relatively few dances in these two books. Another 'tender' piece follows, 'Les Plaisirs des Sens'. The fourth is the harmonically experimental 'Le Labyrinthe' which takes advantage of the mean-tone temperament of the harpsichord Ms Mattax uses. The suite is rounded off by an 'Ariette' with two doubles.

The 3e Suite is the shortest, with just three pieces. The first is another fugue, and takes about half of the suite. The two remaining pieces are both extraverted, 'L'Intrépide' and 'La Grotesque', both brilliantly performed by Charlotte Mattax. The 4e Suite opens with a gavotte with two doubles. The other pieces of this suite are strongly contrasting: 'La Brinborion' should be played 'très légèrement'. 'Le Tendre Langage' is a rondeau to be played "doucement, et avec sentiment", and Ms Mattax does so impressively. Then she lets herself go in the concluding Tambourin.

The second disc contains two suites from the second book. In New Grove this is said to be lost. It was discovered in the late 1990's in the private archives of the Arenburg family in Enghien in Belgium. Ms Mattax writes that she plays two suites from this collection. Does this indicate there is more? If so, why did she record only these suites? The playing time of the second disc is less than 33 minutes.
The 1e Suite is again a work with strong contrasts. It begins with 'Les Liens Harmoniques' which is strongly reminiscent of Rameau. 'La Caressante' is a 'tender' piece of great beauty, followed by the extraverted 'La Fertillante'. 'La petite Coquette' is light and fidgetty as the title suggests, and the suite ends with another Tambourin.
The 2e Suite opens with a lengthy and expressive allemande. It is followed by 'Les Tendres Tourterelles', a rondeau which should be played "plaintivement et avec sentiment" (sorrowfully and with feeling). Ms Mattax expresses the sentiment perfectly. Another harmonically experimental piece in the style of Rameau follows, 'Les Croisades'. The suite ends with a nice little menuet.

I have greatly enjoyed this set. I am impressed by the quality of Février's music and it is quite surprising that it has taken so long before someone has taken care of it. His music should be part of the standard repertoire of harpsichordists. We should be happy that Février's suites have found such an excellent interpreter as Charlotte Mattax Moersch who shows great sensitivity to the character of the various pieces. She plays a beautiful instrument, a copy of a harpsichord which was built in 1707 by Nicolas Dumont. The mean-tone temperament is appropriate to bring out the sometimes daring harmonies in Février's suites.

In short, everything is right here: the music, the performance, the instrument and its temperament, the recording and the production. No harpsichord lover should miss this release.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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