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Michel CORRETTE & Jean BARRIÈRE: Cello Sonatas

[I] Michel CORRETTE (1707 - 1795): Les Delices de la Solitude - 6 Sonatas for Violoncello and b.c. op. 20
Bassorum vox

rec: Feb 27 - March 2, 2009, Freiamt Mussbach, Evangelische Kirche
Coviello Classics - COV 21001 (© 2009) (61'05")

[II] Jean BARRIÈRE (1707 - 1747): "Concert Spirituel - Six Sonatas for Cello and Basso continuo"
Jonas Iten, cello; Rainer Zipperling, cello, viola da gamba; Ghislaine Wauters, viola da gamba; Rosario Conte, theorbo; Naoki Kitaya, harpsichord

rec: August 9 - 11, 2008, Frankfurt/Main, Festeburgkirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 8869738313 2 (© 2008) (65'26")

[I] Sonata I in F, op. 20,1; Sonata II in d minor, op. 20,2; Sonata III in C, op. 20,3; Sonata IV in B flat, op. 20,4; Sonata V in G, op. 20,5; Sonata VI in D, op. 20,6
[II] Sonata in f sharp minor (Livre II,2); Sonata in E (Livre II,4); Sonata in C (Livre III,3); Sonata in G (Livre III,6); Sonata in A (Livre IV,2); Sonata in C (Livre IV,6)

[I] Seung-Yeon Lee, cello; Se-Hee Kim, cello [bc]; Fernando Reyes Ferrón, theorbo, guitar; Mami Kurumada, harpsichord

Whereas the Italian style was dominant in most European countries since the middle of the 17th century, it was only in the first decades of the 18th century that it gained ground in France. One of the effects was the emergence of the cello at the cost of the viola da gamba.

One of the exponents of the Italian taste in France was Michel Corrette. He was one of France's most versatile composers who wrote music for almost any instrument in vogue in his time. He also wrote a large number of treatises which give very valuable information about the technical possibilities of the instruments of his time as well as matters of performance practice.

One of the treatises is the Méthode théorique et pratique pour apprendre en peu de tems le violoncelle dans sa perfection, which was published in 1741 as his opus 24. This 'theoretical and practical method for learning the violoncello in its perfection in a short time' contains information about many aspects of cello playing, like fingering, bow hold, articulation and phrasing. Although it is unlikely Corrette himself played all the instruments he wrote about, the clarity and concreteness of his treatises show that he was thoroughly acquainted with the playing technique of the various instruments.

In about 1739 Corrette published a set of six sonatas for cello and bc as his opus 20, under the title Les Délices de la Solitude. The reasoning behind this title remains unclear as their isn't anything in these sonatas which could explain it. Although Corrette was a representative of the goûts réunis, the mixture of Italian and French elements, these sonatas are close to being purely Italian in character. They are in three or four movements and the character indications are all in Italian. Apart from terms like 'allegro', 'adagio' and 'presto' Corrette refers to dances, but always with their Italian terms, like 'sarabanda' and 'corrente'.

The slow movements are pervaded with Italian pathos, and the fast movements are often of a quite theatrical nature. There are also some special effects: the first movements of the Sonata V in G and the Sonata VI in D contain elements of a battaglia. The Sonata IV in B flat ends with a movement which is called 'Bruit de chasse'.

These six sonatas are very well-written and musically captivating. The ensemble Bassorum vox explores their character to the full. The slow movements are performed with great expression, the fast movements get bubbling and energetic performances. Especially noticeable are the excellent rhythmic pulse and the strong drive in these performances. The special effects are also effectively realised. Here the plucked instruments are used as percussion, but that certainly fits the character of these movements.

It seems this is the first disc by this ensemble. They couldn't have made a better start, and as the players concentrate on performing lesser-known music from France, Italy and Germany I am looking forward to their next projects.

Jean Barrière was born in the same year as Michel Corrette. In contrast to Corrette he was a cellist by profession. He went to Italy to study the cello, but he started to compose for his instrument well before that. He was in Italy from 1736 to 1739, but his first book of cello sonatas was published in 1733. Like the sonatas by Corrette Barrière's sonatas are in three or four movements, and some sonatas contain dances, although not the sonatas played here.

Barrière's sonatas are technically demanding, in particular the sonatas from the Books III and IV which were printed after his Italian journey. An example is the Sonata No 6 in G from Book III: it ends with variations in which brilliant arpeggios run throughout the entire range. The Sonata No 4 in E from Book II includes an independent part for a second cello for the adagio. This is interpreted as an indication that the basso continuo requires a cello. In this recording the cello is sometimes replaced by a viola da gamba. This can be justified from the fact that Barrière himself apparently also played the viola da gamba.

Barrières cello sonatas have certainly not been ignored by the recording industry. There are two recordings by the Ensemble Concerto di Bassi, with Alain Gervreau, one disc with David Simpson and a recording of Les Basses Réunis, with Bruno Cocset. There could be even more. I am not sure whether this disc is a great addition to the catalogue since it is rather inconsistent. Jonas Iten is a cellist who usually plays later music on his cello which dates from the mid-19th century. He has asked for advice in matters of performance practice from Rainer Zipperling, and for this recording he has used gut strings. The pitch of the performance is a1=392. This is all admirable, and Jonas Iten is a real virtuoso. But the musical result is less than satisfying.

Using gut strings is a great advantage to metal strings, but that alone does't turn a cello into a baroque cello. And that is clearly noticeable in this recording. The sound of the cello is too big, and too modern. I have listened to this disc on the same day as the previous disc with sonatas by Corrette, and the difference between the two cellos is all to obvious. The booklet doesn't try to hide the fact that Jonas Iten's cello is no baroque cello, by the way. His instrument is referred to as 'cello', whereas Rainer Zipperling's is called a 'baroque cello'.
But it is also the interpretation which is unsatisfactory. There is too much emphasis on the virtuosity of these sonatas and too little on expression. Also too little attention has been payed to the hierarchy of the notes, meaning the differentiation between good and bad notes. These features are the reason for this disc being far less convincing than the recording of Bassorum vox. The latter is the result of a consistent historically informed approach, whereas Jonas Iten's recording is a compromise between 'historical' and 'traditional'.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Bassorum vox
Jonas Iten

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