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Antoine DARD (1715/20? - 1784): Sonatas for bassoon or cello and bc opus 2

[A] Ricardo Rapoport, bassoon; Karine Sérafin, soprano; François Nicolet, transverse flute; Pascal Dubreuil, harpsichord

rec: August 2006, Rennes, Conservatoire National de Région (chapel)
Ramée - RAM 0702 (© 2007) (62'15")

[B] Kristin von der Goltz, cello; Hille Perl, viola da gamba; Christine Schornsheim, harpsichord
rec: March 19 - 21, 2007, Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Aufseß-Saal)
Raumklang - RK 2701 (© 2007) (57'43")

[A,B] Sonata I in C; Sonata II in G; Sonata III in c minor; Sonata IV in F; Sonata V in d minor; Sonata VI in a minor; [A] Cher Tircis (musette en rondeau); La Coquette (2 versions: ariette, chanson); Rends-moi ton coeur (parodie)

The French composer Antoine Dard doesn't have an entry in the New Grove. As this encyclopedia contains information about many composers who are unknown to the music loving public at large we can safely say that he is really unknown. Therefore it is rather surprising that at about the same time two recordings of his music have been released, although the repertoire is the same.

The booklets differ in regard to the date of birth: Roman Hinke, in the programme notes of Kristin von der Goltz's recording, dates it around 1720, but Youri Carbonnier, the author of the notes to Ricardo Rapoport's recording, even knows exactly when and where he was born: November 2, 1715, in the Burgundian village of Chapaize, about 15 kilometres west of Tournus. His father was officier du Roi which meant he only received a modest income. Hardly anything is known about the musical education of Antoine Dard, although it is possible he entered the choir school of Mâcon cathedral, to which Chapaize belonged at the time. The data from his later years are sparse as well. We know he married in 1734, and in 1754 he sold some land in Chapaize.

At the end of the 1750s Dard has moved to Paris. In 1760 he was appointed as 5th bassoonist in the orchestra of the Académie Royale de Musique. Three years later he was promoted to leader of the bassoon section in the orchestra, which guaranteed him a rise in salary. He was also entered into the list of musicians who played in secular music at the court and in sacred music at the chapel. Since 1763 he was part of the Grand hautbois de la Chambre et Écurie du Roi. In this capacity he played at the coronation of Louis XVI in 1775 and the celebrations going along with it. His activities as a player seem to have ended in 1778, and in 1784 he died at the age of 69.

The oeuvre of Dard is limited: he published two collections of sonatas for bassoon and transverse flute respectively. In addition he wrote some vocal works, and wrote a treatise, which contains a kind of solfège method and a history of music since the antiquity as well as a list of all the works played at the opera in Paris from its beginning to Dard's own time.

The six sonatas for bassoon were published in 1759 as his opus 2, although they were written before his opus 1, the sonatas for transverse flute. They were dedicated to M. Duvaucel, Grand Master of Water and Forests for Île de France. In the preface to the publication Dard writes that he didn't intend to publish them, but was asked to do so, in the interest of an improvement of the playing of the bassoon. "(S)everal farsighted persons have observed that, as the volume contains elements of expression and difficulties in all genres, it seemed indispensable, or at least very useful, to those who would acquire a perfect knowledge of the Bassoon, the only instrument for which, at present, no other composer has written. It is less, therefore, for immediate benefit that I present them than in the service of instruction".

The educational purpose of these sonatas has left its mark as the set contains written-out ornaments and articulation marks for each note. Dard writes that "these sonatas have been supplied with fingerings and phrasing, and nothing has been committed to paper without first having been played many times on the instrument". Therefore these marks give some idea about the way Dard himself played the bassoon. Ricardo Rapoport gives a sign of warning, though: "we often found indications that seem to go against what is considered - today - to be the 'norm' or playing 18th-century music, and even contradict contemporary texts. This leads us to ask ourselves, whether Dard, in the role of principal bassoon at the opera, for instance, or his colleagues actually played in the way that he wrote".

"The masters will doubtless find difficulties here, but I hope they will take the trouble to conquer them, and not - as the majority among them do - condemn all music that requires greater effort". Among the technical difficulties are the range of these sonatas. They go into the highest register of the bassoon, well beyond b'-flat of Mozart's bassoon concerto. "The high register would not become standard for sixty years after Dard, and only after innumerable improvements in instrument design".

But these sonatas are more than just a sampling of technical fireworks. There is quite a lot of expression in these sonatas too, and some have an irresistable rhythm. Unfortunately the qualities of these sonatas don't come to the fore very well in the interpretation by Ricardo Rapoport. In some sonatas his playing is a bit stiff, for instance in fasy scales, like in the Sonata I in C. In the latest sonatas - Nos 5 and 6 - he is at his best. In particular the brilliant second movement (allegro) of the latter comes off pretty well. He is supported by just a harpsichord, which is probably the best solution, although the realisation of the basso continuo by Pascal Dubreuil isn't very imaginative.

In addition this recording offers four short airs, which are set for soprano with transverse flute, either with or without basso continuo. The singing of Karine Sérafin isn't bad, but lacks a bit of subtlety, and she mostly overshadows the flute.

Kristin von der Goltz only plays the six sonatas in a version for cello. This was indicated in the advertisement which announced the publication of the sonatas: "6 sonatas for bassoon, composed by Mr Dard, very useful for those who would play this instrument well. (...) It is said that these sonatas are unique amongst their kind, and can also be successfully played on the violoncello". That is what Kristin von der Goltz impressively proves on this disc. In fact, overall her interpretation is much more captivating and more differentiated - for instance in regard to dynamics and phrasing - than Ricardo Rapoport's. It was a matter of good luck that I listened to Ms Von der Goltz's performance first, and she convinced me of the high quality of these sonatas. If I had heard the original version on bassoon first, I am not sure if I had been that enthousiastic about these works.

I can understand that one wants to have only one recording. Unless you are a bassoon player or bassoon aficionado I advise to go for the cello performance. The actual interpretation of the music apart Kristin von der Goltz's playing is revelatory and a joy to listen to. I had liked Christine Schornsheim to play a French harpsichord instead of the copy of a German instrument (Christian Vater, 1738) but her realisation of the basso continuo part is much more imaginative and creative than her Pascal Dubreuil's.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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