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"Les défis de Mr. Forqueray - Mr Forqueray's Favourites"

Lucile Boulanger, viola da gamba; Claire Gautrot, viola da gamba [bc]; Romain Falik, theorbo; Pierre Gallon, harpsichord

rec: July 2017, Passy (F), Chapelle
Harmonia mundi - HMM 902330 (© 2018) (76'07")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Forqueray

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sonata in C, op. 5,3 [1]; Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745): 2e Suite in G (La Leclair) [4]; 4e Suite in g minor [4]; Jean-Baptiste FORQUERAY (1699-1782): 3e Suite in D (Chaconne. La Morangis ou La Plissay) [4]; Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764): Sonata in e minor, op. 9,2 [3]; Michele MASCITTI (1664?-1760): Sonata in g minor, op. 1,2 [2]; Robert DE VISÉE (1660?-1733?): La Vénitienne de Mr. Fourcroy

Sources: [1] Arcangelo Corelli, Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo, op. 5, 1700; [2] Michele Mascitti, Sonate a violino solo & a due violini, op. 1, 1704; [3] Jean-Marie Leclair, Quatrième livre de sonates à violon seul avec la basse continue, op. 9, 1743; [4] Antoine Forqueray, Pieces de viole avec la basse continuë, 1747

Antoine Forqueray was one of the two greatest gambists of his time in France; the other was Marin Marais. A contemporary stated that the latter played like an angel, and the former like the devil. Apart from a difference in personality, this was also due to the fact that Marais remained close to the classical French style, which had established itself during the 17th century, whereas Forqueray enthusiastically embraced what came from Italy since the turn of the century. The present disc includes one of his suites, but focuses on his activities as a performer. He not only played his own music, but also pieces by others, among them some of the leading exponents of the violin.

Forqueray's attitude towards the Italian style and the violin is documented in a letter by Pierre-Louis d'Aquin de Château-Lyon, which Lucile Boulanger quotes in the interview in the booklet. "Forquerai came on to the scene at the moment when the Italians provoked a remarkable rivalry in the French towards the year 1698. He attempted to produce on his viol everything that they managed to do on their violin, and he succeeded in his endeavour. (...) The unusual chords and the most striking features of the best composers from Italy were so familiar to him, that in all his Pièces we find a certain spice, which never seasons any Pièces by Marais, not even his best-crafted ones."

It is known that he adapted music originally written for the violin. He didn't need to look far for such music. One of the main violinists and composers for the violin was Jean-Marie Leclair, whom Forqueray portrayed in one of his pieces (La Leclair, part of the 2e Suite). It is an expression of the friendship between the two men, and Ms Boulanger states that both pushed virtuosity to the limit on their respective instruments. It was only logical to select one of Leclair's sonatas for this programme. The Sonata in e minor is from the fourth book, published as the Op. 9 around 1740 (the extant copy dates from 1743), where Leclair went further in his mixture of the French and Italian styles. The second sonata is more restrained in regard to virtuosity as here the transverse flute is suggested as an alternative to the violin. It is remarkable how well this piece fits the viola da gamba.

That also goes for the Sonata in g minor by the Italian-born composer Michele Mascitti. He was born in Chieti, near Naples, and began his career in the royal chapel, where his uncle - who also was his first teacher in music - acted as violinist. After travelling through Europe he settled in Paris, where he came under the patronage of the Duke of Orléans. The Duke was an ardent lover of Italian music and Mascitti was just one of the Italian musicians he took under his wing. This connection with the Duke allowed Mascitti to play at the court in Paris. He made such an impression that in 1714 he was granted a King's privilege to print for 15 years "collections of sonatas and other musical pieces, vocal as well as instrumental". This privilege was twice extended, in 1731 and 1740, and, as a sign of the appreciation of Mascitti, he was given French citizenship in 1739. Mascitti died in Paris, at a ripe old age, in 1760. His music was appreciated although he didn't make any real concessions to the French taste. The sonatas Op. 1 are predominantly Italian in character. Mascitti uses both then common forms of the sonata, the sonata da camera and the sonata da chiesa. The Sonata in g minor is a mixture of both forms: it comprises five movements: adagio, allegro, largo (sonata da chiesa), allemande and giga (sonata da camera). It is documented that Forqueray played Mascitti's sonatas.

Mascitti was compared with Arcangelo Corelli, and considering the iconic stature of the latter's sonatas Op. 5 and their wide dissemination, he could not be omitted in a programme like this. His sonatas were played and appreciated across Europe and appeared in different transcriptions. The best-known of these are those for recorder, which were particularly popular in England. The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris owns a manuscript with transcriptions of the complete set for viola da gamba and basso continuo. It is not entirely clear whether Lucile Boulanger took the Sonata in C from this collection or rather made her own transcription. Anyway, again this violin music does very well on the viola da gamba.

Forqueray must have written much more than what has come down to us in the collection of five suites which was published by his son in two versions: one for viola da gamba and basso continuo, the other in a harpsichord transcription. There has always been serious doubt whether these suites are really from the pen of Antoine or were, perhaps, written by his son Jean-Baptiste. Asked about it, Lucile Boulanger has no definitive answer, but suggests that Antoine composed the pieces, and that his son reworked them, "making them a bit more up-to-date". In any case, the suites give us some idea of Forqueray's style of playing. The 4e Suite is a fine specimen of his art, with some brilliant character pieces, such as La Marella, with the indication vivement et marqué. And what better way to end the programme than with a chaconne, which was such an important part of nearly every opera and instrumental suite in France. The Chaconne La Morangis ou La Plissay, taken from the 3e Suite, is a very fine example of this genre.

The performance is such that one can only hope that Lucile Boulanger will have the opportunity to record the remaining four suites by Forqueray. This disc is one of the best with music for the viola da gamba that I have heard in recent years. Not only are her technical command of the instrument and the way she deals with the challenges of the music highly impressive, her performances are also strongly gestural, and her approach is quite theatrical. Her style of playing seems very much in line with what we know about Forqueray's own playing and his embracing of the Italian style. Boulanger states that Forqueray was known for his improvisations, and that has inspired her to treat the material with some freedom. However, she seems to stay within the boundaries of what is historically and stylistically tenable, although she may have gone a little too far in the closing movements, Le Carillon de Passy - La Latour, from the 4e Suite. She has found equal partners in Claire Gautrot, Pierre Gallon and Romain Falik. The latter plays a transcription of one of Forqueray's pieces for the theorbo by Robert de Visée, who was for his instrument what Forqueray was for the viola da gamba.

This is a disc not to be missed by any lover of the viola da gamba.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Lucile Boulanger
Pierre Gallon
Claire Gautrot

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