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"Italy versus France"

The Bach Players
Dir: Nicolette Moonen

rec: July 20 - 22, 2010, London, St Michael's Church, Highgate
Hyphen Press Music - 004 (© 2011) (78'52")
Liner-notes: E/F

Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1628-1691): 4e Suite in D (Tombeau de M. Chambonnières)c [3]; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Trio sonata in G, op. 2,12 [2]; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): Apothéose de Corelli: grande sonate en trioa; Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Le bourgeois gentilhomme (LWV 43) (ouverture; chaconne); Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Sonata II in g minor [1]; Suite VI in e minor 'Blanditiae' [4]; Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710): Toccata in a minorc; Jean-Féry REBEL (1666-1747): Tombeau de M. de Lully [5]; Robert DE VISÉE (c1660-c1732): Musetteb; Préludeb

Sources: [1] Georg Muffat, Armonico Tributo, 1682; [2] Arcangelo Corelli, Sonate da camera a tre, op. 2, 1685; [3] Jean-Henry d'Anglebert, Pièces de clavecin, 1689; [4] Georg Muffat, Florilegium secundum, 1698; [5] Jean-Fery Rebel, Recueil de 12 sonates à II et III parties, 1712

Nicolette Moonen, violin, narrationa; Rachel Isserlis, violin, violetta; Foskien Kooistra, viola; Rachel Stott, tenor viola; Kinga Gáborjáni, basse de violon, viola da gamba; Jakob Lindberg, theorbob; Silas Wollston, harpsichordc

The competition of the Italian and the French style was one of the main subjects of the 17th and 18th centuries. Much has been written about it, and many recordings have paid attention to it, in one way or another. From that perspective the theme of this disc can hardly be called original. That doesn't mean that it couldn't make sense to juxtapose the two styles and show the differences, as well as how they were mixed in the early 18th century in the so-called goûts réunis. Unfortunately this subject isn't worked out very well in the liner-notes, and the choice of repertoire isn't particularly imaginative.

A large part of the music which The Bach Players perform has been recorded before. That is certainly the case with the Apothéose de Corelli by François Couperin. The Tombeau de M. de Lully by Jean-Féry Rebel, the Sonata II in g minor by Muffat and Corelli's Sonata a 3 in G, op. 2,12 are also very well-known and often performed. This disc would have been considerably more interesting if the musicians would have selected some lesser-known pieces suited to demonstrate the difference between the two styles. And that leads to another minus of this project. Most pieces are written in the mixed style which became fashionable in the early 18th century, when French composers started to include Italian influences in their compositions, and composers outside France aimed at merging the two main styles of Europe. All pieces by Muffat, Couperin and Rebel are specimens of the mixed style. In comparison the programme contains only a handful of - rather short - pieces which reflect the pure French (Lully, d'Anglebert) or the pure Italian (Corelli, Pasquini) styles. The liner-notes tell us little about exactly what the French objections to the Italian style were, nor how the Italians assessed French music.

The performances also offer little elucidation. The playing of The Bach Players is largely the same in French and Italian music. On the whole I am not very impressed by the interpretations. Technically there is nothing wrong here: all music is given nice and polished performances. But there is very little contrast between the various items and a general blandness prevails which made it sometimes hard to keep concentration. The programme starts with two instrumental movements from the music which Lully composed for Molière's famous play Le bourgeois gentilhomme. This choice is rather unfortunate: the music was originally played by the 24 Violons du Roy of which Lully himself was a member. A performance with five strings cannot do justice to the character of the score. Rebel's Tombeau de M. de Lully may have been written as a tribute to Lully, who was one of the main representatives of the pure French style, but the composer was clearly influenced by Italian music. The Tombeau is part of a collection of twelve solo and trio sonatas which follow the model of the Italian sonata da chiesa. The performance is dynamically too flat and the playing as a whole not very colourful. The second section - 'vif' - is rather slow. The lack of dynamic shading also damages the performance of Corelli's sonata, which consists of just one movement, a ciaccona.

The two compositions by Muffat are examples of his attempts to merge the Italian and French tastes. Although the titles of many movements are French, some of the characteristics of the dances have gone, for instance their rhythmic peculiarities. That is no excuse for the lack of rhythmic profile in some movements, though. Of all the pieces Couperin's Apothéose de Corelli comes off best, although I have heard interpretations which made a more lasting impression. The two harpsichord solos are alright, but nothing more. Jakob Lindberg provides nice performances of the two pieces for theorbo by Robert de Visée.

On balance I find it hard to welcome this disc. The subject is dealt with often enough, the choice of repertoire is unimaginative and the playing leaves something to be desired.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

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