musica Dei donum
Jean-Féry REBEL (1666 - 1747): "Dance Suites and Sonatas"
rec: July 2010, Atlanta, GA, First Presbyterian Church
Centaur - CRC 3430 (© 2014) (76'56")
Cover & track-list
7e Sonate in g minor ;
8e Sonate in d minor ;
1e Suite in G ;
2e Suite in D ;
3e Suite in D 
 Pièces pour le violon, 1705;
 Sonates à Violon seul mellées de plusieurs Recits pour la Viole, 1713
Jeanne Johnson, violin;
Brent Wissick, viola da gamba;
Peter Marshall, harpsichord
Since the early 17th century the violin developed into one of the main instruments in Italy. Its popularity soon reached Germany, and there Carlo Farina laid the foundation of what was to become the German violin school. In contrast, in France the violin was only used for dance music and as one of the instruments in the opera orchestra. Music for solo violin was not written until the last decade of the 17th century. The first composers who wrote such music were François Couperin, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and Jean-Féry Rebel. Considering the origin of virtuosic violin playing it cannot surprise that all three were under Italian influence, although at first not openly.
Jean-Féry Rebel was the son of Jean Rebel (c1636-1692), a singer who entered the royal chapel in 1661. In this capacity he took part in performances of several of Jean-Baptiste Lully's operas. Five of his children became musicians, among them Anne-Renée, also a singer, and Jean-Féry. The latter was educated as a violinist and harpsichordist; from the age of eight he received lessons from Lully. In 1705 he was one of the violinists in the 24 Violons du Roi and became batteur de mesure in that ensemble as well as in the orchestra of the Opéra. Later he gradually gave up his positions in favour of his son François.
Rebel has become best known for his ballet suite Les Elémens and his fantaisie with the title Les caractères de la danse. He also composed a tragédie-lyrique, Ulysse. In the field of chamber music his oeuvre comprises three collections. In 1705 he published three suites for violin and bc, in 1712 a set of twelve sonatas for one and for two violins respectively with basso continuo, which was followed one year later by another set of twelve sonatas for violin and bc, with some récits for viola da gamba and bc. The collections of 1705 and 1713 are the subject of the Centaur disc.
Recordings with Rebel's music for solo violin are rather rare. I am only aware of a recording by Andrew Manze (Harmonia mundi, 1998) and by Amandine Beyer (ZigZag Territoires, 2005); the latter only plays two solo sonatas. That is rather odd, considering their importance in the history of French violin music and their quality. This disc focuses on the three suites of 1705. These are not, as one may conclude from the year of publication, the first pieces for violin from Rebel's pen. The second set was published in 1712, but the sonatas were written around 1695. In that collection Rebel included a number of trio sonatas which testify to the Italian influence in his oeuvre. In contrast, the three suites seem rather French. All the movements - seven (1e Suite) or nine (2e Suite and 3e Suite) - have French titles. They include several character pieces, comparable with those we find in the harpsichord music of the likes of Couperin and Rameau. The seventh movement from the 2e Suite is called La Boutade (witticism) and the 3e Suite closes with Les Cloches, in which the three instruments imitate church bells. Here Rebel also includes dynamic indications (doux, fort). In French music ground basses could not be omitted. The 1e Suite includes a chaconne, the 2e Suite a passacaille. The latter suite ends with a long piece, called caprice, which is also based on a repeated bass pattern, although with its eight bars it is much longer than that of the chaconne and passacaille. It consists of various sections of contrasting character.
It includes several passages with double stopping, as one also can observe in the score. That is remarkable, considering that Jean-Marie Leclair is generally considered the first in France who made use of this technique. It is another token of Rebel's virtuosity as well as the Italian influence in his violin music. The other suites also include some episodes with double stopping.
The recording rounds off with two sonatas from the 1713 set. Again Rebel follows French tradition: they include mostly French dances; the 7e Sonate comprises the four dances which had become the standard in suites across Europe: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. The 8e Sonate is a little different: it has three movements; the first is called grave, which is followed by a courante and a rondeau. The latter is another typically French form, which was to become increasingly popular during the 18th century.
This release is an important one, for historical and musical reasons. Overall the performances of the three members of Eco dell'Anima are quite good, but sometimes I found the violin's sound a bit too sharp and scratchy. However, that is probably also a matter of taste, and it should not withhold any lover of the baroque violin from purchasing this disc. We should be grateful to the artists for offering us the complete collection of 1705. I hope that one day Rebel's complete chamber music will be available on disc.
Johan van Veen (© 2017)