musica Dei donum

CD reviews

French keyboard music of the 18th century

[I] Jacques DUPHLY (1715 - 1789): Harpsichord works
Violaine Cochard, harpsichord
rec: July 23 - 25, 2017, Chaussy (F), Château de Villarceaux
La Música - LMU 014 (© [2018]) (62'37")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Claude-Bénigne BALBASTRE (1727-1799): La d'Héricourt [6]; Jean-François DANDRIEU (1682-1738): La Lyre d'Orphée [1]; Jacques DUPHLY: Allemande in d minor [2]; Chaconne [5]; Courante in d minor [2]; La Boucon [2]; La Forqueray [5]; La Vanlo [2]; Les Grâces [5]; Médée [5]; Rondeau tendre in d minor [2]; Antoine (1672-1745) / Jean-Baptiste-Antoine (1699-1782) FORQUERAY: 1ère Suite in d minor (La Cottin; La Portugaise) [4]; 3e Suite in D (La Angrave) [4]; Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace ROYER (c1705 - 1755): L'Aimable [3]; La Marche des Scythes [3]

Sources: [1] Jean-François Dandrieu, 2e livre de pièces de clavecin, 1728; [2] Jacques Duphly, Pièces de clavecin, 1744; [3] Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, Premier Livre de pièces pour clavecin, 1746; [4] Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, Pièces de viole composées par M. Forqueray le Père, mises en pièces de clavecin, 1747; [5] Jacques Duphly, Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin, 1756; [6] Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, Pièces de clavecin, Premier livre, 1759

[II] Franz Ignaz BECK (1723 - 1809): "Pièces inédites pour Claviers"
Aurélien Delage, harpsichorda, organb, fortepianoc, piano organiséd
rec: Feb 2017, Paris, Cité de la Musique
Bayard Musique - 308 530.2 (© 2017) (57'01")
Liner-notes: F
Cover & track-list

Franz Ignaz BECK: Allegro in Ca; Allegro in Fd; Allegro con spirito in C 'L'Éveillée'a; Allegro moderato in g minora; Allegro spiritoso in c minora; Caccia in E flatd; Grazioso in Cc; Minuetto in Fb; Moderato in f minor 'La Jéliote'a; Tempo moderato - Allegro in F 'La Mendiante'c; Vivace in Fb; Jean-Baptiste FEYZEAU (1745-1808): Sonata in c minor, op. 1,6 (andante grazioso)a [1]

Source: [1] Jean-Baptiste Feyzeau, Pièces de clavecin en sonates, op. 1, 1764

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries the lute was the leading instrument in France. During the 17th century this role was gradually taken over by the harpsichord. The key figure in the emancipation of the harpsichord was Jacques Champion de Chambonnières (1601/02 - 1672), who is considered the father of the French harpsichord school. The largest part of his keyboard oeuvre consists of dances; the harpsichord music of the time was strongly influenced by the style of composing for the lute (style brisée).

Although composers of the first half of the 18th century still composed dances for the keyboard, the character piece became increasingly popular. In the oeuvre of François Couperin this can be clearly observed. Whereas the first book comprises a substantial number of dances, there are relatively few in the second book, and the two last books hardly include any dances. The dominance of the character piece became a feature of French keyboard music from the second quarter of the 18th century onwards.

Another feature is the connection to the theatre. That is most obvious in the harpsichord oeuvre of Rameau. The connection of harpsichord music with the theatre was not a new development, and Rameau did not invent it. The first composer who turned to the theatre for inspiration was Jean-Henry d'Anglebert. In his time the operatic scene was dominated by Jean-Baptiste Lully who - himself of Italian birth - made it the core of his activities to develop a true French style, that would surpass the Italian taste, which was not appreciated in France. However, the increasing theatrical character of keyboard music was certainly due to the growing influence of Italian music after the turn of the century.

Violaine Cochard devoted a disc to composers of the generation of Rameau, excluding the man himself. In the booklet she writes that she made a personal choice from the repertoire. Jacques Duphly was the starting point, "[first] of all because he writes such lovely tunes, starting with the Allemande which begins his First Book." There are also pieces "of infinite beauty", "melancholy" and "tenderness", but "Duphly is also capable of unleashing tumultuous power, as in Médée, for example." She added pieces by some of his contemporaries. "I conceived it as a concert programme, an exploration of 18th-century French harpsichord music, a dialogue between Duphly and some of his contemporaries who share aspects of his sound-world."

All the pieces recorded here are pretty well-known, probably with the exception of La Lyre d'Orphée by Jean-François Dandrieu, who is almost exclusively known for his organ music. It is regrettable that his harpsichord pieces have never been recorded complete. That would have been preferable to the recording of pieces which are available in other recordings. That said, the present disc could serve as an introduction to the French harpsichord music of the generations following François Couperin.

However, I am not overly enthusiastic about Violaine Cochard's performances. They are not very imaginative, for instance in the treatment of the rhythms and the application of notes inégales. The latter are almost absent, which I find rather strange. Take Duphly's La Forqueray, for instance, which I compared with the interpretation by Medea Bindewald, whose subtle application of notes inégales results in a compelling performance. Balbastre's La d'Héricourt is just too strict in time here; both Elizabeth Farr and Korneel Bernolet deliver more captivating performances. Their tempi are faster, but they need more time, which indicates that Ms Cochard does not observe all the repeats.

The main reason to add this disc to your collection may be the instrument she plays. It was built by Christian Kroll in 1776, and it is unique in that it was found entirely in its original state. It was acquired by Marc Ducornet in 2002, who then restored it. This recording is a chance to hear this beautiful instrument in full glory.

I just expressed my regret that Violaine Cochard recorded pieces which are fairly well known. Therefore I was especially delighted to receive a disc with keyboard music by Franz Ignaz Beck, which is hardly known.

One may wonder why I review this disc here. Wasn't he a German composer? Yes, he was; that is to say: he was of German birth. But he spent most of his life in France, and here he composed his keyboard music.

Beck was born in Mannheim, which was an important musical centre. Its court orchestra was one of the most admired institutions in Europe in the mid-18th century. According to New Grove, "the precision of attack, the ability to reflect the smallest dynamic nuance, the uniform bowing, and the fact of every player’s having been trained, or having had his technique polished, by [Johann] Stamitz and subsequently by [Carl] Cannabich, produced unprecedented results." Beck was one of Stamitz's most talented pupils; he was educated at several instruments, among them the violin and the double bass. For several years he stayed in Italy and may have taken lessons from Baldassare Galuppi in Venice. He probably went to France in the early 1760s, first to Marseille where he became the leader of the theatre orchestra. Since the late 1750s Parisian firms published symphonies from his pen. These have become the best-known part of his oeuvre and have been recorded by, among others, La Stagione Frankfurt. He did not stay for long in Marseille, and settled in Bordeaux, where he became active as a teacher and also acted as conductor of the Grand Théâtre. In 1774 he was appointed organist at St Seurin; in this capacity he earned much admiration for his improvisatory skills. His position as organist must have inspired him to write keyboard music. Keyboard pieces from his pen were published in Bordeaux, Paris and Dresden. This part of his output is relatively little-known, and therefore the disc which Aurélien Delage devoted to Beck's keyboard works is of great importance.

Rather than focusing on published sonatas and fantasias, he opted for a programme of unpublished pieces of very different kinds. The programme opens with a short Allegro in C, which has the traits of a concerto movement, for instance through the alternation of solo and tutti episodes. This piece shows the influence of the Italian style, and so does the Tempo moderato - Allegro 'La Mendiante' in F, which sounds rather like a movement from a sonata. As was common at the time, most of the thematic material is in the right hand, whereas the left hand is largely confined to an accompanying role. This is one of several pieces with titles, which - as Delage suggests in his liner-notes - may be the names of vessels, as Beck seems to have been very interested in vessels and the shipping industry. A close friend of his was Charles Pierre Hyacinthe d'Ossun, colonel of the Régiment Royal des Vaisseaux. To him Beck dedicated his Sonates pour le piano forte ou clavecin op. 5. Beck was one of the first composers in France, who published music specifically intended for the fortepiano.

That is the reason this instrument is used in some of the pieces. However, Delage opted for a wider variety than the fortepiano and the harpsichord. Some pieces are performed on the organ, an orgue de salon, as it is called, built by Jean-Baptiste Schweikart in Paris in 1784. The harpsichord is an instrument by Jean-Claude Goujon of the mid-18th century, which was the subject of a ravalement by Jacques Joachim Swanen in 1784. As was often the case with harpsichords of that time, it has knee levers which allow for a change of registration while playing. Delage uses it to good effect in the Allegro which opens the programme, and in the andante grazioso by Jean-Baptiste Feyzeau, one of Beck's pupils. This piece is taken from the Sonata in c minor, the last piece in a collection of harpsichord pieces which he dedicated to his teacher. The fortepiano "in the form of a harpsichord" is by Pascal Joseph Taskin and dates from 1788. The most curious instrument is certainly the piano organisé, constructed by Érard in 1791. It is a mixture of fortepiano and organ, which creates a very special and unique sound. With this selection of instruments, Delage delivers a fascinating view into the colourful world of keyboard making in the second half of the 18th century, when much experimentation took place in this field.

His performances are just as compelling as the instruments. In fact, this disc is a happy combination of music, instruments and performance. The various keyboards are instrumental in expressing the characteristics of the pieces which Delage has selected. The piano organisé can be heard in full glory in the Caccia, a full-blooded character piece which has strong features of a real hunting scene. Overall, these pieces are much more French in character than German. The moderato 'La Jéliote', played at the harpsichord, reminded me of the harpsichord works of Jacques Duphly.

This is an outstanding disc, from whatever angle one looks at it. It is important because of the choice of repertoire, offering a more complete picture of Franz Beck, but also because of the instruments on display here. That makes it all the more regrettable that the booklet is only in French.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Aurélien Delage

CD Reviews