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"Dessiner les passions" (Designing the passions)

Andreas Gilger, harpsichord

rec: May 28 - 30, 2021, Oettingen, Residenzschloss (Goldener Salon)
Genuin - GEN 22768 (© 2022) (74'32")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jacques Champion DE CHAMBONNIÈRES (1601/02-1672): [Suite] in a minor; Louis COUPERIN (c1626-1661): [Suite] in C; Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1629-1691): [Suite] in G; Jean-Nicolas GEOFFROY (1633-1694): [Suite] in F; Henry DU MONT (1610-1684): [Suite[ in d minor;

Sources: Jean-Nicolas Geoffroy, Livre des pieces de clavessin de tous les tons naturels et transposéz, n.d.; Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, Les Pièces de Clavessin, Livre Premier, 1670; Jean-Henry d'Anglebert, Pièces de clavecin, 1689

French harpsichord music is quite popular among performers and audiences. Hardly a year goes by without one or several new recordings of harpsichord works by François Couperin or Jean-Philippe Rameau. In particular their output is attracting the attention. In general the music of the 18th century is more frequently performed and recorded than what was written during the 17th century. The main exception is Louis Couperin; his music is often played, and especially some of his pieces, such as the passacailles and chaconnes, are part of the standard repertoire. In comparison other composers, such as Jacques Champion de Chambonnières - who can be considered the founding father of the French harpsichord school - and Jean-Henry d'Anglebert are less well-known. And then we are not talking about composers such as Henry du Mont - not associated with keyboard music anyway - and Jean-Nicolas Geoffroy, who may be unknown quantities to many music lovers.

Andreas Gilger has devoted an entire disc to French harpsichord music of the 17th century. He closes with a Suite in C by Louis Couperin, which ends with one of his most famous pieces, the passacaille. He opens with a Suite in G by d'Anglebert, which is followed by four pieces in d minor by Du Mont, which are included in a famous manuscript, known as the Manuscrit Bauyn, in which also a number of pieces by Louis Couperin can be found. Next is a Suite in F by Jean-Nicolas Geoffroy, and then we get a Suite in a minor by Chambonnières. The word suite is printed between brackets in the track-list, because in the 17th century composers left it to the performer to select the pieces in a book of pièces de clavecin and put them together in the form of a suite.

The selection of pieces, which are partly little-known, is one of the notable features of this recording. Another one is the choice of harpsichord. Gilger, in his liner-notes, states that for most recordings of French harpsichord music, in whatever time it has been written, instruments from the 18th century are used, which are strongly influenced by Flemish harpsichords of the 17th century. Moreover, many modern instruments are rather 'inspired by' such instruments than exact copies. Gilger uses an exact copy of one of the few surviving French instruments of the 17th century, a Vaudry of 1681. He also believes that the most common pitch of modern performances (392 Hz) is too low. Instead he uses a pitch of 400 Hz, with a temperament of 1/4 comma meantone. The harpsichord produces a powerful sound with some sharp edges. Gilger explores these features in his performances, allowing him to characterise the different movements and suites according to their meaning.

And that leads to another meaningful aspect of this production. Gilger emphasizes the importance of rhetorics, whose features were used at the service of a communication of emotions. Hence the title of this disc: "Dessiner les passions" - Designing the passions. It refers to a book with this title, written by Charles le Brun (1619-1690), court painter of Louis XIV. "[Le] Brun provides definitions and illustrations of different passions along with instructions for painting them". Passions should be interpreted as emotions in general, which can be very different. It is what is known as affetti in Italian and Affekte in German. This is one of the basic concepts of the style we know as 'Baroque', and the expression of affetti was one of the ideals of Giulio Caccini, one of the fathers of the seconda pratica.

It is important that both performers and audiences are aware of this element of baroque music, but exactly how it works in our time is not so easy to define. Gilger expresses his hope that his performances will stir the emotions of the listener, but he does not give any clue as to which emotions the selected suites are supposed to raise in the listener. That would have been helpful. One clue may be the characterisation of the different keys by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Gilger has left nothing to chance. Not only did he carefully select the repertoire and choose the right instrument, he also wanted to make a recording in a venue that may be comparable with the surroundings in which French harpsichord music of the 17th century was played. He found a room in Schloss Oettingen in Bavaria. "With parquet flooring, a gorgeous stucco ceiling, a size of 150m2, and original 18th-century furnishing, the Goldener Salon proved to be exactly what I had hoped to have available for this recording (...)". It was inspiring for him during the performance, but it also works in favour of the communication of his performances. The sound is very direct: as listener one feels very close to the harpsichord. That can have a negative effect: a close miking can be disturbing. Here the ideal middle ground has been found.

As far as the performances are concerned, I am impressed by what Gilger brings to the table here. His performances emphasize the contrasts between the various movements, and he has selected and ordered them in such a way that these contrasts come off to full extent. Restraint is not the name of the game here, in line with what Gilger states in his liner-notes. Some tempi are remarkably fast, for instance Louis Couperin's passacaille. Gilger feels that in his recording everything fell into place, and I agree. The combination of music, instrument and recording venue is pretty much ideal. To these elements I add the interpretation: this is a strong case for repertoire that is not as well known as it should be. In short, this is a superb disc, which no lover of the harpsichord should miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Andreas Gilger

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