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"Laborde - Rameau"

Maïlys de Villoutreys, sopranoa
Trio Dauphine

rec: Sept 1 - 5, 2014, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France (auditorium)
Evidence Classics - EVCD008 (© 2015) (75'51")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Jean-Baptiste FORQUERAY (1699-1782): Suite in d minor (La Laborde)c [2]; Jean-Benjamin DE LABORDE (1734-1794)a: Chanson Villageoise [3]; Dors, dors [3]; Iris [3]; L'aurore [3]; Lugubre Nuit [3]; Ne vous étonnez pas Julie [3]; Non, je n'aimerais jamais! [3]; Non, non, tous les coeurs [3]; Plus on ressent d'amour [3]; Que l'Amour a d'appas [3]; Quoi que pour vous [3]; Regrets de Pétrarque [3]; Un amant doit-il redouter [3]; Francesco PETRINI (1744-1819): Sonata IIIb [4]; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Pièces de clavecin en concerts: 2e Concert in G (arr Trio Dauphine) [1]

Sources: [1] Jean-Philippe Rameau, Pièces de clavecin en concerts, 1741; [2] Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, Pieces de Viole, Composées par Mr Forqueray Le Pere, Mises en Pieces de Clavecin par Mr Forqueray Le Fils, 1747; [3] Jean-Benjamin de Laborde, Trois Recueils de Chansons avec accompagnement de harpe, de violon et de clavecin, 1763-64; [4] Francesco Petrini, Recueils de pièces et d'airs choisis avec accompagnement de harpe, op. 16, 1779

Maud Giguet, violin; Clara Izambert, harp (solob); Marie van Rhijn, harpsichord (soloc)

In 1741 Jean-Philippe Rameau published a set of Pièces de clavecin en concerts which can be played in various combinations of instruments as well as with harpsichord alone. Today they belong to the most frequently performed chamber music works of the 18th century. All but two movements are character pieces as we know them from the collections of harpsichord music which were published since the early 18th century. Most of the titles refer to personalities from the social circles in which Rameau moved. The 3e Concert opens with La La Poplinière, referring to the man who for many years acted as his maecenas. Some refer to musicians, such as La Forqueray and La Marais, two of the most famous gambists of his time. The first movement from the 2e Concert is called La Laborde, and this seems to refer to the composer who is the key figure in the programme on the present disc.

Jean-Benjamin de Laborde was born in Paris into an aristocratic family. He studied the violin with Antoine Dauvergne and composition with Rameau. He was just 14 years of age when his first work for the stage was performed. In 1762 he entered the service of Louis XV. In his capacity as composer he mainly focused on music for the stage, especially opéras comiques but also pastoral operas. He was quite successful in this department, although his compositions also met with some criticism. When Louis XV died in 1774 he lost his position at the court and for the rest of his life he concentrated on writing, translating and editing books on various subjects, including music. Being considered a representative of the ancien régime he ended his life under the guillotine.

Maybe he could have saved his skin if he had shown sympathy for the Revolution as some of his colleagues did. He could have started to compose songs with revolutionary texts which were major weapons in battle. He had vast experience in the writing of solo songs. Between 1757 and 1764 he published eight collections of songs, and many of the airs in his compositions for the stage also had the character of songs. In this department he linked up with a long-standing tradition. Whereas in Germany the solo song became obsolete in the mid-17th century under the influence of the cantata and only regenerated about a century later, in France it enjoyed an unremitting popularity at the court and in the salons of the higher echelons of society. Antoine Boësset, Michel Lambert and Étienne Moulinié were among the main composers who wrote airs de cour. In the course of time various genres came into existence: the air à boire (drinking song), air pour danser (dancing song) and air sérieux. Written for solo voice and lute in the first half of the 17th century, later specimens had a basso continuo accompaniment.

That is also the case with the songs from Laborde's pen. In the first six collections which were printed between 1757 and 1760 he added a part for the violin which is formally independent, although sometimes follows parts of the vocal line. In 1763-64 two further collections were published, and here Laborde included a part for the harp. That was quite new: only one year earlier the very first edition of music for the single-action harp had been published. In Laborde's songs the harp participates in the realization of the basso continuo part, alongside the harpsichord. In this recording it sometimes supports the voice on its own, without the harpsichord. This results in duets for voice and harp which points into the future where songs with harp accompaniment were often performed, in particular in the intimacy of the salons.

Here the harp became an increasingly popular instrument. A major factor in its promotion was the fact that Marie Antoinette played it. Within a couple of decades Paris became a centre of harp playing and composing for the harp, both as a solo instrument and as part of an ensemble, such as the one we hear on this disc. The songs by Laborde were certainly intended for performances in social gatherings which were also visited by Rameau. His songs enjoyed considerable popularity; the fact that they were included in anthologies attest to that. It is even documented that Marie Antoinette liked to sing them.

Some texts are by renowned poets of that time, others are anonymous and may be from Laborde's own pen. Most of the songs are not different in content from the chamber cantatas which were popular in the first half of the century. This means that they are mostly about characters from an arcadic world, and don't include very deep thoughts. These songs are written for the entertainment of an informed audience which was able to appreciate the texts and the way they were set to music.

Paris also became a centre of harp building. Sébastien Érard (1752-1831), the founder of the firm of piano manufacturers, played an important role in the development of the harp. Apart from being responsible for various innovations he built more solid harps with better designed and more reliable actions. The technical developments made way for the composition of technically more demanding repertoire, including music for public performances, such as solo concertos. Paris became the place to be for harpists from across Europe. Francesco Petrini was one of the harpists who settled in Paris; he was the son of a German harpist who was at the service of Frederick the Great of Prussia and for whom Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach composed his only harp sonata. Francesco composed a large oeuvre for harp, both solo and in ensemble. A specimen of the former is the Sonata III from his op. 16 which dates from 1779.

Considering the time the music on the programme was written it seems questionable that Clara Izambert plays a harp which was built around 1820. However, I don't know enough about the history of the harp to judge to what extent this instrument differs from those played in the 1670s and 80s. It could well be that its sound is more powerful than that of earlier instruments. But I haven't noticed any problems in regard to the balance between the harp and the harpsichord, an instrument based on models of Blanchet harpsichords of 1730 and 1746.

From a historical point of view this is a most interesting recording as it sheds light on repertoire which is largely unknown. It is clear that there is still much to discover in this department and also in regard to music for harp from the second half of the 18th century in France. The performances are pretty much ideal. This is music for the intimacy of the salon and that is perfectly conveyed here. Maïlys de Villoutreys is completely at home in this kind of music. She has a very beautiful voice, agile and clear, and as a result the texts are always understandable. It is regrettable that she didn't make use of historical pronunciation.

It is interesting to hear Rameau's 2e Concert from the Pièces de clavecin en concerts here in an arrangement for harpsichord, violin and harp. It comes off pretty well with this line-up, although I must say that I have heard more engaging performances. But that doesn't diminish my appreciation of the instrumental performances here. Petrini's sonata is a beautiful piece, played with aplomb by Clara Izambert, and Marie van Rhijn gives an excellent performance of Forqueray's La Laborde, another token of the quite prominent place of Jean-Benjamin Laborde in music life of the time.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Maïlys de Villoutreys
Trio Dauphine

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