musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Chamber music of the French Baroque

[I] "Suite Life"
Bergen Barokk
rec: Feb 7 - 10, 2014, Vaksdal kirke
Lawo - LWC 1096 (© 2016) (65'53")
Liner-notes: E/No
Cover & track-list

Nicolas CHÉDEVILLE (1705-1782) / François COUPERIN (1668-1733) / Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE le Romain (1673-1763) / Marin MARAIS (1656-1728) / Anne-Danican PHILIDOR (1681-1728): Pièces in A/a minor; François COUPERIN / Anne-Danican PHILIDOR: Pièces in D; Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE le Romain: Suite in e minor; Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE le Romain / Marin MARAIS / Anne-Danican PHILIDOR: Pièces in G/g minor; Michel de LA BARRE (1675-1745): Chaconne in G; Robert DE VISÉE (1650?-1732?): Chaconne in G

Sources: Michel de La Barre, Deuxième Livre de Pièces, 1708; Jacques-Martin Hotteterre le Romain, Première Livre de Pièces, 1708; Anne-Danican Philidor, 1er Livre de Pièces, 1712; 2e Livre de Pièces, 1712; François Couperin, Troisième Livre de Pièces de Clavecin, 1722; Nicolas Chédeville, Il Pastor Fido, 1737; Jacques-Martin Hotteterre le Romain, Méthode pour la musette, 1738

Frode Thorsen, recorder; Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, viola da gamba; Thomas C. Boysen, theorbo, guitar; Thor-Harald Johnsen, guitar; Hans-Knut Sveen, harpsichord

[II] "Le Monde Parisien"
Ensemble Schirokko Hamburg
Dir: Rachel Harris
rec: Jan 2014, Hamelin, Marktkirche St. Nicolai
ambitus - amb 96 969 (© 2014) (66'06")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Marin MARAIS (1656-1728), arr Rachel HARRIS: Suitte d'un Goût Étranger (allemande La Superbe; La Fougade; Le Tourbillon; Marche Tartare; L'Amériquaine; La Tartarine; Le Badinage; Fête Champêtre) [1]; Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace ROYER (c1705-1755), arr Rachel HARRIS: La Marche des Scythes [3]; Zaïde, Reine de Grenade (1739) (Air pour les Turcs); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Quartet in e minor (TWV 43,e4) [2]; Quartet in a minor (TWV 43,a2) [2]

Sources: [1] Marin Marais, Quatrième Livre de pièces de viole, 1717; [2] Georg Philipp Telemann, Nouveaux Quatuors en Six Suites, 1737; [3] Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, Premier Livre de pièces pour clavecin, 1746

Inge Marg, recorder, oboe; Mathias Kiesling, transverse flute, piccolo; Margret Schrietter, oboe; Rachel Harris, Annika Schmidt, violin; Ilja Dobruschkin, Klaus Bundies, viola; Barbara Messmer, viola da gamba, violone; Christoph Harer, cello; Jennifer Harris, bassoon; Andrea Baur, theorbo; Raphael Becker-Foss, harpsichord

[III] "Les Voyages de l'Amour"
Ensemble Meridiana
rec: Nov 10 - 13, 2014 & June 3, 2015, Herznach (CH), St. Nikolaus-Kirche
Chandos - CHAN 0812 (© 2016) (57'39")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Joseph Bodin DE BOISMORTIER (1689-1755): Concerto à cinq parties in e minor, op. 37,6 [3]; Les Voyages de l'Amour, opéra-ballet op. 60 (1736) (simphonie pour l'arrivée des Génies Elémentaires); Premier Balet de Vilage en trio, op. 52,1 [5]; Sonate III à deux parties in d minor, op. 14,3 [2]; Sonate IV à trois parties in g minor, op. 37,4 [3]; Michel CORRETTE (1707-1795): Concerto comique VI in G, op. 8,6 'Le Plaisir des Dames' [4]; Jean-Féry REBEL (1666-1747): Les Caractères de la Danse, fantaisie; Sonata VI for violin and bc in b minor [1]

Sources: [1] Jean-Féry Rebel, Sonates à violon seul mellées de plusieurs Recits pour la viole, Livre IIe, 1713; Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, [2] XIV Oeuvre contenant VI sonates à deux Bassons, Violoncelles, ou Violes, op. 14, 1726; [3] V sonates en trio, suivies d'un concerto à 5, op. 37, 1732; [4] Michel Corrette, Six Concerto comiques pour trois flûtes, hautbois ou violons avec la basse, op. 8, 1733; [5] Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, IV Balets de village en trio, op. 52, 1734

Dominique Tinguely, recorder, voice flute, bassoon; Sarah Humphrys, recorder, oboe; Sabine Stoffer, violin; Tore Eketorp, quinton, bass viola da gamba, violone; Mirko Arnone, theorbo, colascione, guitar; Christian Kjos, harpsichord

Recently I have reviewed several discs with French chamber music of the early 18th century with largely well-known repertoire, such as pieces by François Couperin, which is performed in a different instrumentation. I assessed this approach positively, firstly because different scorings are often suggested by the composers themselves, and secondly because this way the repertoire can be extended considerably. The three discs to be reviewed here are comparable: again we hear the music from different angles, although in various ways.

Dance played a major role in French music of the 17th and 18th centuries. Dances were a fixed part of opera: every opera included a number of ballets and sometimes Louis XIV himself participated in them. It is therefore not surprising that French instrumental music consisted mostly of dances, even if they were not explicitly mentioned. Bergen Barokk plays four suites which mostly consist of dances, such as bourrée, allemande, gavotte and menuet. There are many recordings of French suites but this disc is different in that the Suite in e minor is the only one which is played as it was published by its composer, Jacques-Martin Hotteterre le Romain. Other composers published collections of pieces from which the performer could put together his own suite. The five books with pieces for viola da gamba by Marin Marais are among the best-known examples. The same goes for the Premier livre de pièces of 1712 by Anne Danican Philidor. This collection includes a number of dances without being ordered into suites. The only fixed part in this book is the sonata for recorder which brings it to a close. This is the reason that the three 'suites' in G/g minor, A/a minor and D/d minor respectively which comprise pieces by Philidor, Marais, Hotteterre, Couperin and Chédeville, are called here pièces.

Most of them are performed with recorder. That is one of the options in this kind of music. Composers often mentioned various instruments on their title pages and even if pieces are specifically intended for a particular instrument, such as the Chaconne in G by Michel de La Barre, which is taken from a collection of pieces for the transverse flute, another instrument is not necessarily out of order. Marin Marais, for instance, suggests performances on other instruments, among them flute, recorder and oboe and even harpsichord, organ or guitar in the preface of his third book of pieces for the viola da gamba. I don't know whether the Plainte from that book which is included here in the Suite in G/g minor can be played on the recorder. It is the only piece in this suite which is performed as a solo for the viola da gamba and that is a bit odd as it damages the suite's coherence. The same is the case in the Suite in A/a minor which opens with two other pieces by Marais, also played on the viola da gamba. It is even less satisfying in the Suite in e minor by Hotteterre where a pair of menuets is played in different scorings. In the Suite in D/d minor Couperin's Les Fauvétes plaintives is played as a harpsichord solo.

That said, this is a delightful disc: Bergen Barokk plays very well, and I especially enjoyed Frode Thorsen's playing of the recorder as well as Thor-Harald Johnsen in Robert de Visée's Chaconne in G. I am less enthusiastic - as on previous occasions - about Markku Luolajan-Mikkola's performances on the viola da gamba. The booklet includes the sources from which the pieces are taken but as both Philidor and Hotteterre are represented with two collections it would have been nice if the tracklist had indicated from which of them the various pieces are taken.

Different instrumentations are also part of the programme which was recorded by the Ensemble Schirokko Hamburg. The heart of the programme are the two 'Paris' quartets by Telemann which bear witness to his strong preference for the French style. During a visit in Paris in 1737/38 he composed them and performed them with some of the best artists of the time, among them the flautist Michel Blavet and the gambist Jean-Baptiste Forqueray. These are the only pieces performed in the original scoring for transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba and bc.

The disc opens and closes with movements from one of Marais's longest suites, known as Suitte d'un Goût Étranger. As this title suggests it is inspired by foreign cultures. One of the movements is called Marche Tartare, another La Tartarine. We also hear L'Ameriquaine and the selection closes with Fête Champêtre, a reference to the countryside. These pieces, originally scored for viola da gamba and bc and taken from the fourth book, are played here by an ensemble of recorder, transverse flute/piccolo, oboes, bassoon, strings and bc with percussion. As we have seen there is no fundamental objection against a performance on another instrument than the viola da gamba. But it is different whether the one solo instrument is replaced by another or whether the scoring is extended to a small ensemble with more than one instrument for the melody line. In some cases that may work well but here it doesn't. The two pieces by Royer don't fare any better. La Marche des Scythes is originally intended for the harpsichord, and the performance with a small instrumental ensemble is very unsatisfying. The effects in the harpsichord version don't come off here. It is preceded by the Air pour les Turcs en rondeau from Royer's ballet héroïque Zaïde of 1739. Here one misses the strong basis of strings in the then usual line-up of the French orchestra.

That said, the fact that these different scorings don't work that well could also be due to the playing. I have heard other recordings of this ensemble which I liked but I am a little disappointed about this disc. Telemann's 'Paris' quartets are very well known and available in quite a number of recordings. I have heard better performances than these which I find rather lacklustre. The two last movements from the Quartet in e minor are the best part of this disc. Un peu vivement from the Quartet in a minor is not very vivid, I'm afraid. In general there is too little differentiation between the movements and in particular in the latter quartet the tempi are a bit too slow.

With the last disc we have arrived in a new era. It is the time that the traditional French style was gradually overshadowed by Italian influences. The cello had established itself alongside the viola da gamba and would soon push it into the sidelines. Composers started to write music for the cello and in 1741 Michel Corrette published a treatise on the playing of the instrument. He is one of the composers in the programme, alongside Boismortier - the most prolific French composer of his time and someone who was never in the service of a court or the church - and Jean-Féry Rebel.

The programme is put together in the form of a journey, as the title - derived from Boismortier's opéra-ballet Les Voyages de l'Amour - indicates. "The three composers presented on this CD (...) escort us to the sites of the action: The chamber music of Joseph Bodin de Boismortier takes us to the salons of the city, and his Ballet de Village transports us to the country. The Compositeur de la Chambre du roi (court composer) Jean-Féry Rebel invites us to the royal court. And finally Michel Corrette completes our story with the joys of earthly love in Le Plaisir des Dames and a wedding feast in the country!"

The programme opens with a simphonie from Boismortier's opéra-ballet in a different instrumentation which is one of the connections to the previous disc. The score doesn't mention strings which is not surprising as they were the very foundation of the orchestra. We find indications of the participation of oboes and bassoons, either to play colla parte with the strings or independently, in alternation with the strings. Even so, a scoring with recorders, oboe, bassoon, a single violin and bc is not very satisfying. The same goes for Les Caractères de la Danse by Rebel, called a fantaisie, which is a sequence of dances following each other attacca. Again the scoring is not specified but, like in Boismortier, we find indications of flûte, hautbois and bassons which suggests that they either participated from start to finish - and sometimes played without the strings - or now and then joined the strings. But in this performance the omission of the usual body of strings has a negative effect on the performance.

Boismortier usually suggested various instruments for the performance of his sonatas and concertos. That is also the case in the pieces from the opp. 14, 37 and 52. In the sonatas op. 14 he suggests two bass instruments: cellos, viole da gamba or bassoons. That doesn't necessarily mean that two instruments of the same kind have to be used. Here we get a viola da gamba and a bassoon and that seems fully legitimate. The Concerto à 5 parties from the op. 37 is scored for four different instruments, and that is how it is performed here. In the Premier Ballet de Village en trio from the op. 52 every movement is scored differently. The participation of a quinton is interesting; this modernized version of the treble viol was introduced around 1730 and that is a good argument for its participation in a piece published in 1734.

With Corrette we are again in the theatre: the concertos comiques find their origin in music which was performed between acts of an opera. The title page of the op. 8 edition specifically refers to flûtes, hautbois ou violons; instead of the transverse flute we hear - here as well as in the other pieces on this disc - a recorder. At the time (1730s) that was a more or less old-fashioned instrument which was seldom specifically mentioned in scorings but that doesn't mean it was not played anymore.

I gave the first disc of the Ensemble Meridiana, "tastes of europe", an enthusiastic welcome and again I am very happy with the way these artists perform the repertoire they have chosen. Despite my lack of satisfaction with the scoring of the 'orchestral' pieces I recommend this disc. The reason is not only the fine playing but also the quality of the music: Boismortier and Corrette are still unjustly neglected and underrated.

Looking back at these three discs I have come to the conclusion that different scorings are an interesting way to approach French instrumental music from the first half of the 18th century but that the liberties in this regard are not unlimited. Performers need to be critical in this regard.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Bergen Barokk
Ensemble Meridiana
Ensemble Schirokko

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