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Antoine & Jean-Baptiste FORQUERAY: Pièces de viole

[I] "Forqueray ... ou les tourments de l'âme"
Kaori Uemura, viola da gambab; Michèle Dévérité, harpsichordc; Ryo Terakado, violind; Ricardo Rodriguez, viola da gambae; Robert Kohnen, harpsichordf; Nicolas Lormeau, recitera; Jean-Pierre Nicolas, transverse flutea
rec: Sept 2014 & May 2015, Bra-sur-Lienne (B)
Harmonia mundi - HMM 905286.89 (4 CDs; CD Bonusa) (© 2017) (3.04'05" / 52'09"a)
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet Vol. 1 & Cover, track-list & booklet Vol. 2 (*)
(*) digitally this production is only available in two volumes, each with its own booklet; the liner-notes are identical

[II] Pièces de viole
Atsushi Sakai, viola da gamba; Marion Martineau, viola da gamba [bc]; Christophe Rousset, harpsichord
rec: July 6 - 9 & Sept 22 - 25, 2015, Paris, Temple Bon Secours
Aparté - AP122 (3 CDs) (© 2015) (3.19'35")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745) & Jean-Baptiste(-Antoine) FORQUERAY (1699-1782): 1ère Suite in d minor [6/7] [I, II]; 2e Suite in G [6/7] [I, II]; 3e Suite in D [6/7] [I, II]; 4e Suite in g minor [6/7] [I, II]; 5e Suite in c minor [6/7] [I, II]
[Manuscrit de Lille] Allemande in Gcf; Courante in Gcf; Sarabande in Gcf;
[Recueil de pièces de violle avec la basse tiré des meilleurs autheurs] Allemande in d minor [I]; Bransle in G [I]; La Girouette in g minor [I]; Musette in A [I]
Josse BOUTMY (1697-1779): 1ère Suite in c minor (La Forcroy)c [3]; Pierre-Alain BRAYE-WEPPE (*1981): Tombeau de Forquerayc; Charles-François CLÉMENT (c1720-after 1789): Allegro ma non troppocd [5]; 1ère Sonatecd [5]; 4e Sonate (arias I & II)cd [5]; 6e Sonatecd [5]; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): 17e Ordre in e minor (La Superbe, ou La Forqueray)c [2]; Louis-Antoine DORNEL (c1680-after 1756): Sonata IV in D 'La Forcroy' (prélude; chaconne)cd [1]; Jacques DUPHLY (1712-1789): La Forquerayc [8]; Ana GIURGIU-BONDUE (*1977): Carillons pour Forquerayc; Claude-François RAMEAU (1727-1788): La Forcrayc; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): [Pièces de clavecin en concerts] 5e Concert in d minor (La Forqueray) [4]

[1] Louis-Antoine Dornel, Sonates a violon seul et Suites pour la flûte traversière avec la basse, op. 2, 1711; [2] François Couperin, Premier livre de pièces de clavecin, 1722; [3] Josse Boutmy, Premier livre de pièces de clavecin, 1738; [4] Jean-Philippe Rameau, Pieces de clavecin en concerts, 1741; [5] Charles-François Clément, Sonates en trio pour un clavecin et un violon, 1743; [6] Antoine Forqueray (?), Pièces de viole avec la basse continuë, 1747; [7] Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, Pièces de viole composées par M. Forqueray le Père, mises en pièces de clavecin, 1747; [8] Jacques Duphly, Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin, 1756

Scores Forqueray, viola da gamba version
Scores Forqueray, harpsichord version

Forqueray is one of the best-known names in music history. Antoine was generally considered one of the greatest viola da gamba players of his time, and today his music ranks among the best for the instrument. That is to say: if the five suites which were published by his son Jean-Baptiste are indeed from his pen. And with that we come to what is one of music history's mysteries. The relationship between father and son was pretty bad. By all accounts, Antoine was a difficult character. After a long legal battle, he and his wife separated in 1711. He had taught his son to play the viola da gamba, and apparently he was jealous about Jean-Baptiste's skills, and had him incarcerated in 1715. Ten years later he had him banished from the kingdom, and it was only due to the influence of Jean-Baptiste's pupils that the sentence was revoked. It is significant that none of the family attended Antoine's funeral.

It is especially the troublesome relationship that has raised questions about Antoine's authorship of the pieces which Jean-Baptiste published in 1747 in two versions: one for viola da gamba and basso continuo, the other for harpsichord solo. Three pieces were explicitly added as having been written by Jean-Baptiste himself, but all the others he claimed to be by his father. It is hard to imagine that a man, who had suffered so much from his father's cruelty, wished "to assure him immortality", as he stated in the dedication of the edition to his royal pupil Madame Henriette de France. It has been suggested that he simply wanted to explore the reputation of his father in order to increase sale. There have also been questions with regard to the connection between the two editions. Jean-Baptiste was a brilliant gambist, like his father, but he was not a professional keyboard player. However, his wife, Marie-Rose, was, and it seems possible that she was responsible for the idiomatic harpsichord transcriptions, or played at least a major part in their creation.

These questions will probably never be answered, but they certainly contribute to the fascination for these two exceptional musicians. This, and the quality of the music, explains why there is no lack of recordings of their oeuvre. Most recordings include the five suites or a selection from them, either in the gamba versions or - mostly - in the harpsichord transcriptions. These usually comprise two or three discs, depending on the tempi chosen by the performer(s). The present recording comes in four discs, plus a bonus disc. What, then, is different about this production, in comparison to other recordings?

Michèle Dévérité opens her liner-notes with this statement: "This recording presents for the first time the complete works of the Forqueray family (...)". That is not quite correct. About ten years ago Brilliant Classics released a set of two discs with music by the Forqueray family, and that production included two songs by Antoine's nephew Michel, and a prelude for harpsichord attributed to him. But even if we overlook this omission, it depends on what one considers 'complete', whether this claim is justified.

As we have seen, these pieces exist in two editions. Considering the differences between them, one could argue that a "complete recording" means that every piece is recorded in both versions. That is not the case here: every piece is included, but only in one of the two versions. Most pieces are played as harpsichord solos, and seven are performed at viola da gamba and harpsichord. One piece has been recorded in both versions. However, as both editions are available on disc in complete recordings, the importance of this production is in the addition of pieces which are not included in most recordings, and which are definitely from the pen of Antoine.

They are included at the third disc. Four pieces are considered early works: Allemande in d minor, Bransle in G, La Girouette in g minor and Musette in A. They are part of a collection of viola da gamba pieces, which seems to date from the end of the 17th century, and also includes pieces by Marin and Roland Marais and Caix d'Hervelois. Three further pieces are from the Lille Manuscript. This is connected to the 'Concert de Lille', comparable to the Concert Spirituel in Paris. In its concerts both court musicians and their local colleagues participated in performances of vocal and instrumental music. The Lille Manuscript contains compositions by Hotteterre and La Barre, and also three Pièces à trois violes de Monsieur Forcroy: an allemande, a courante and a sarabande, all in G. They are performed here in "an original transcription for two harpsichords". I don't quite understand what that means. I assume these transcriptions have been made by Michèle Dévérité. She is right in stating that this way of performing was quite common at the time. Even so, I would have liked to hear them in their orginal scoring, because as far as I know there is no recording of these pieces on viols.

The fourth disc is then filled with pieces devoted to Forqueray. Here we find harpsichord pieces which bear the name Forqueray (in different spellings) by François Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Jacques Duphly (La Forqueray), Josse Boutmy and Claude-François Rameau (La Forcroy). In two such character pieces the harpsichord is joined by other instruments: Louis-Antoine Dornel (violin) and Jean-Philippe Rameau (violin, viola da gamba). The latter piece is very well-known as it is part of the Pièces de clavecin en concerts. However, there are also two sonatas and extracts from two further sonatas by Charles-François Clément, which are part of a set of six, dedicated to Forqueray, who probably was the composer's teacher. They attest to the reputation of the composer, but - in contrast to the pieces mentioned before, they don't include something like a portrait or musical characterisation of the composer. Lastly, two contemporary composers have written pieces which are inspired by Forqueray. Ana Giurgiu-Bondue's Carillons pour Forqueray stays stylistically quite close to the world of the composer, with a marked depiction of the sound of bells. Pierre-Alain Braye-Weppe also makes use of a then common form, the tombeau, but uses a much more modern style.

The bonus disc seems to include a kind of spoken biography, illustrated with music which is probably from the pen of Forqueray. However, the booklet does not include any information about what this bonus disc is about nor does it list which music is played. The whole thing is in French, which means that it is pretty useless for those who don't understand French. The documentation leaves something to be desired. The keys of the sonatas by Clément are not given, and when extracts from a larger piece are played, it is not indicated from which they are taken, such as Rameau's La Forqueray, which is in fact the first movement of the 5e Concert from the Pièces de Clavecin en Concerts. This is a bit of a disappointment considering the status of this production.

Fortunately the performances are very good. I would have liked a more balanced line-up: Kaori Uemura, who over the years has been involved in so many performances and recordings, but seldom takes centre stage, shows her skills here, and I have enjoyed her interpretations, for instance in the two pieces which open the 4e Suite and in the exuberant Jupiter from the 5e Suite. It is preceded by a wonderful introverted piece, La Sylva, which receives an outstanding performance from Michèle Dévérité. Overall I have the impression that her approach is a bit more restrained than I have heard from other performers. That is the case, for instance, in La Mandoline from the 2e Suite, in which she several times makes use of the buff stop. The same goes for La Portugaise from the 1ère Suite. The ensuing La Couperin is probably a bit too heavy-handed. For the items with violin the seasoned baroque violinist Ryo Terakado joins Dévérité, and that results in very fine performances of the sonatas by Clément, which deserve much more attention.

If you would like to hear Forqueray's suites in the version for viola da gamba and basso continuo, there seem not to be that many recordings to choose from. In comparison the version for harpsichord solo is much more popular, and is available in quite a number of recordings. Taking this into account, the recording by Atsushi Sakai, Marion Martineau and Christophe Rousset is an attractive proposition. The most notable feature of this recording, in comparison with others, is that Sakai and his colleagues takes much more time. The most extraordinary difference is the 4e Suite: Michèle Dévérité and Kaori Uemura take 33'27", in strong contrast to Sakai, who needs 48'55". This is mainly due to the performance of La Sainscy: 3'48" vs 11'36". Obviously in this case the difference is not only the result of a slower tempo, but likely also the treatment of the repeats. Whereas Sakai plays all of them, Dévérité and Uemura seem to be a bit more economical in this department. But, undoubtedly Sakai has mostly the slower tempi, and in most cases that is just a matter of artistic freedom. However, sometimes his tempi seem too slow. La Mandoline, from the 2e Suite, comes off better in Dévérité's interpretation. In La Clément from the 4e Suite, I found it hard to keep my concentration. Overall, Sakai's approach of these suites is rather bold, with marked dynamic contrasts. In many cases that works quite well; listening to his performance one understands that Forqueray was said to play like the devil. But in some cases he seems to go a little too far; in the case of La Couperin from the 1er Suite, for instance, I would have preferred a more intimate and elegant performance. There is certainly no lack of elegance in La Régente from the 3e Suite, though, and in the next piece, La Tronchin, the nice swaying rhythm is perfectly realised.

In short, this is probably not the ideal version of the viola da gamba versions, but the fact that all the repeats seem to have been observed here, speaks in favour of it. Moreover, Sakai produces a beautiful tone, and his style of playing is one of great intensity and fervour. If you don't have this version in your collection as yet, this is definitely a production to take into consideration.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Christophe Rousset
Atsushi Sakai

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