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Jean-Baptitse BARRIÈRE (1707 - 1747): Sonates pour Le Pardessus de Viole

Hamburger Ratsmusik

rec: August 11 - 14, 2020, Blaibach, Konzerthaus
Christophorus - CHR 77456 (© 2021) (66'25")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

La Duchesne [2]; La Tribolet [2]; Sonata I in b minor [1]; Sonata II in D [1]; Sonata III in e minor [1]; Sonata IV in G [1]; Sonata V in B flat [1]; Sonata VI in f minor [1]

Sources: [1] Sonates pour le Pardessus de Viole avec la Basse Continue, Livre 5, c1740 [2] Sonates et Pièces pour le Clavecin, c1740

During the first half of the 18th century the Italian cello was in the process of superseding the viola da gamba, the symbol of everything that was French in music. This was the direct reason a certain Hubert Le Blanc published a book in Amsterdam in 1740, called Défense de la basse de viole contre les entreprises du violon et les prétentions du violoncelle (A Defence of the bass viol against the ventures of the violin and the pretentions of the violoncello). Le Blanc, a lawyer by profession, was a staunch admirer of the traditional French style. The title of the third part of his book is telling: "A method to make all music playable on the Viol". It was a final stand designed to save the bass viol from extinction.

One of the key figures in the development of the cello and cello playing in France was Jean-Baptiste Barrière. He was from Bordeaux and worked in Paris in 1730 as Musicien ordinaire de notre Académie Royale de Musique. In 1733 he was granted a privilege to publish sonatas and other instrumental works. In 1736 he went to Rome to study the cello but it seems very likely that he already composed for the cello before that. His first two books with six sonatas each were printed in Paris in 1733 and 1735 respectively; these were followed in 1739 and 1740 by the third and fourth book. These collections show an increase in technical complexity and the last two books attest to a growing influence of the Italian style. "The cello sonatas include a variety of technical problems - passages in double 3rds, arpeggiated chords and multiple stops, and brilliant virtuoso passages extending into the upper range", Mary Cyr writes in New Grove.

The sonatas for the pardessus de viole, which are the subject of the present disc, are not any different. It needs to be noted that this instrument is not identical with the dessus de viole or discant viol, that during the renaissance played the upper part in music for a consort of viols, and that played a solo role in the oeuvre of some composers who had a special liking for the French style, such as Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Melchior Molter. The pardessus de viole was tuned a fourth higher than the discant viol and had a similar range as the violin. It was also treated as a substitute for the violin, in particular for ladies, as Michel Corrette states in his Méthode pour apprendre facilement à jouer du Pardessus de Viole (1748): "Women for example play the pardessus de viole with five strings and will never take up the violin as they are not fond of the position in which it is held: furthermore, their hands are too small to hold it".

It is not known for sure when the instrument appeared at the music scene for the first time. It seems that it turned up around 1700, but Simone Eckert, in her liner-notes, quotes a book of 1738, which makes mention of a dessus de viole that was adapted to become a pardessus as early as 1665. It is also interesting to note that it continued to be played, when the bass viol was already on its way out. Even virtuosos on the bass viol, such as Marin Marais and his son Roland, played this instrument. Another bass viol virtuoso, Charles Dollé, taught the pardessus de viole. And it seems that cellists were also interested in it, as the set of six sonatas by Barrière, which is the subject of the present disc, proves.

Much music was specifically written for the pardessus de viole from 1724 onwards; Eckert mentions that around 250 of such pieces have survived until the present day. It seems unlikely, though, that many of them were written in such a purely Italian style as these sonatas by Barrière. They are not fundamentally different from his cello sonatas. "With this instrument, he pushed back the compositional and technical performance boundaries of his predecessors and contemporaries, presenting multiple challenges such as double stopping, virtuoso semiquaver runs and remote keys. Barrière was the first composer to utilise the Italian style exclusively in his music for pardessus de viole while other composers preferred the French style or attempted a stylistic combination", Eckert writes.

The sonatas consist of four movements in the usual order in Italian music: slow - fast - slow - fast. The titles of the movements are all in Italian, and four of the sonatas close with a movement, called aria, another token of the Italian character of this set. The allegro from the Sonata II in D is a clear example of a virtuosic piece with lots of double stopping. Another one is the adagio that opens the Sonata IV in G, also printed in the booklet. It not only includes double stopping, but also a number of semiquaver runs. Several sonatas include a very short slow movement which consist entirely of chords with double stopping. An example is the adagio of the Sonata III in e minor, which comprises just four bars. Barrière's sonatas for cello are of superb quality, and these sonatas for the pardessus de viole bear also witness to his capabilities as a composer. These are excellent pieces, and the recording of the complete set by Simone Eckert and her ensemble is of great importance.

It is hard to imagine a better performance than they receive here. Simone Eckert is best known for her performances on the bass viol and her recordings of German vocal music of the 17th century. Here we meet her in another capacity, and her performamnces are just as convincing as those I have heard before. The accompaniment is well judged: in some sonatas we only hear a plucked instrument in the basso continuo, in others the cello and the harpsichord. The choice of a cello instead of a viola da gamba as a string bass seems fully justified, given the Italian character of these sonatas and the fact that the cello had fully established itself as an alternative to the viol at the time these sonatas were printed.

At about the same time Barrière published a set of six sonatas for harpsichord. Five of them are transcriptions of the sonatas for pardessus de viole; only the sixth is different. In addition to the sonatas, this collection includes six separate pieces, two of which are played here by Anke Dennert. These fine pieces receive a very good performance, and they bring some variety in the programme. The entire collection has been recorded by Luca Quintavalle.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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