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Michel CORRETTE (1707 - 1795): "Concerti op. 26"

Vital Julian Frey, harpsichorda; Hannfried Lucke, organb
Orchester Le Phénix

rec: July 1 - 4, 2021, Zernez (CH), San Mauritius
Coviello Classics - COV92212 (© 2022) (60'29")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Concerto in G, op. 26,1a; Concerto in A, op. 26,2a; Concerto in D, op. 26,3b; Concerto in C, op. 26,4b; Concerto in F, op. 26,5b; Concerto in d minor, op. 26,6a

Marie-Luise Werneburg, Mark Williams, discantus; The solo concerto was born in Italy in the early 18th century. One of the most productive composers of such works was Antonio Vivaldi. He composed concertos for his own inatrument, the violin, and for most other instruments in vogue in his time, such as the cello, the transverse flute and the bassoon. His oeuvre does not include any keyboard concerto, but there are some concertos in which the organ appears alongside other instruments. The keyboard played a major role in the basso continuo, but only gradually it was given an obbligato role, and if that was the case, it was mostly the harpsichord.

The disc under review includes six concertos by Michel Corrette, printed in 1756, which are mostly known as organ concertos. In fact, the title mentions the harpsichord first. That is no coincidence. The organ was an instrument of the church. Small organs were used in secular surroundings as basso continuo instruments, but were not suitable for a solo role. In the church there was no room for solo concertos. It was only due to the 'secularization' of the organ that the instrument was given the chance to shine in the genre of the solo concerto. George Frideric Handel's organ concertos Op. 4 were the first in this genre, and made quite an impression. They were published in 1738, and that was the year Corrette travelled to England. He admired Handel's concertos, and his own concertos are clearly influenced by them. In 1748 the concert hall of the Tuileries in Paris, where the concerts of the Concert Spirituel took place, received its own organ. This may have encouraged Corrette to publish a set of concertos, in which he mentions the organ as an alternative to the harpsichord. The preface includes indications with regard to the registration of the concertos, in case they are played at the organ. It is notable that Corrette even suggests a performance on organ solo, without instrumental accompaniment.

The title of the set is in Italian, and that is telling as these concertos are dominated by the Italian style. They are in three movements: the first movements are marked allegro, five of the second movements andante (the exception is Concerto No. 2, which has an adagio) and the third movements are again in allegro, except the last, which ends with a presto. However, there are French elements as well. Several movements are in fact dances: the middle movement of Concerto No 1 includes a gavotta, the last movement of the Concerto No. 2 is a giga. More clearly is the way the solo part is written: in the solo episodes the keyboard is usally accompanied by a treble instrument, the violin or the transverse flute. In the mid-18th century sonatas for keyboard with accompaniment of a violin (often ad libitum) were very popular.

As most of Corrette's music, these concertos are written in the galant idiom that was common at the time, although Corrette does not avoid dissonances (Concerto No. 4/III). However, the solo part is technically pretty demanding, and includes rapid arpeggios and episodes where the hands are crossing. The instrument needs to have two manuals, in order to realize the dynamic contrasts ("The piano passages should be played on the second manual").

The liner-notes to this recording state that these concertos are not often played. That may be true as far as public performances are concerned (but organ concertos are generally not that often played, for various reasons), but they have been recorded several times. In my collection I have two recordings: one by René Saorgin (Harmonia mundi), and one by Olivier Vernet (Ligia Digital, 2004); the liner-notes to the latter I have used for this review. Moreover, there are two that I have not heard: by Patrice Brosse and Concerto Rococo (Pierre Verany, 2013, reissued 2023) and by Fabio Bonizzoni (Tempéraments, 2008). However, this may well be the first recording in which the concertos are shared between harpsichord and organ. That makes it a welcome addition to the discography anyway. They do well on the harpsichord, and harpsichordists should consider performing them on the concert platform. There is more than the concertos by the Bach family - virtually the only concertos which appear in the programmes of public concerts.

Both Vital Julian Frey and Hannfried Lucke deliver excellent performances. Frey plays a double-manual harpsichord by Andrew Garlick, a copy of an instrument by Jean-Claude Goujon of 1749. Lucke plays the organ of the Reformed Church San Mauritius in Zernez, built by Joseph Lochner in 1741. Both instruments are perfectly suited to these concertos, whose instrumental parts are given fine performances by the Orchester Le Phénix.

This is an enjoyable disc of music that is meant to entertain. The performers make sure it does just that.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Vital Julian Frey
Orchester Le Phénix

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