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John & Jean Baptiste LOEILLET: Chamber Music

[I] Jean Baptiste LOEILLET 'John Loeillet of London' (1680 - 1730): "John of London - Chamber music by Jean-Baptiste Loeillet"
Ensemble Mediolanum

rec: March 28 - 30, 2010, Florstadt, Evangelische Kirche
Christophorus - CHR 77343 (© 2011) (71'34")

[II] Jean Baptiste LOEILLET 'Loeillet de Gant' (1688-1720/29): "Flötensonaten" (Flute Sonatas)
Daniel Rothert, recorder; Vanessa Young, cello; Ketil Haugsand, harpsichord

rec: May 6 - 9, 2008, [no place given]
Naxos - 8.551256 (© 2010) (73'35")

[I] Sonata I in C, op. 3,1 [6]; Sonata II in d minor, op. 3,2 [6]; Sonata III in F, op. 3,3 [6]; Sonata IV in a minor, op. 3,4 [6]; Sonata V in g minor, op. 3,5 [6]; Sonata VI in d minor, op. 3,6 [6]; Suite V for harpsichord in F [5]
[II] Sonata in a minor, op. 1,1 [1]; Sonata in G, op. 1,3 [1]; Sonata in C, op. 1,6 [1]; Sonata in d minor, op. 2,3 [2]; Sonata in c minor, op. 3,5 [3]; Sonata in E flat, op. 3,7 [3]; Sonata in e minor, op. 3,12 [3]; Sonata in f minor, op. 4,11 [4]

Sources: Jean Baptiste Loeillet 'Loeillet de Gant', [1] 12 Sonates, op. 1, c1710; [2] 12 Sonates, op. 2, 1714; [3] 12 Sonates, op. 3, 1715; [4] 12 Sonates, op. 4, 1716; Jean Baptiste Loeillet 'John Loeillet of London', [5] 6 Suits of Lessons, 1723; [6] 12 Solos, op. 3, 1729

[I] Sabine Ambos, recorder; Felix Koch, cello; Wiebke Weidanz, harpsichord

Within a couple of years two discs have been released which are devoted to sonatas for recorder and basso continuo by Jean-Baptiste Loeillet. There are no duplications, though. That isn't as surprising as one probably would think: despite their identical Christian names, the sonatas played on these two discs are by different composers. The Loeillet's were a Flemish family of instrumentalists and composers, and the article on 'Loeillet' in New Grove mentions six different musicians. The eldest is Pieter, who lived from 1651 to 1735 and was active as violinist and concertmaster. One of his sons was Jean-Baptiste, who called himself 'Loeillet de Gant'. The other Jean-Baptiste was Pieter's nephew, and called himself 'John Loeillet of London', since he settled in the English capital around 1705.

The latter Loeillet is mentioned as a member of the Drury Lane orchestra in 1707. A couple of years later he played as flautist and oboist in the orchestra of the Queen's Theatre at the Haymarket. At about the same time he started to organize concerts at his home. It is here that the concerti grossi by Corelli received their first performance in England. John Loeillet published three collections of sonatas for a solo instrument and basso continuo. The Ensemble Mediolanum has chosen the six sonatas from the 12 Solos opus 3, which are scored for the recorder. The other six are written for the transverse flute. Although Loeillet came from a region which musically speaking was under French influence, his sonatas are largely Italian in style. Basically he follows the model of the sonate da chiesa of Corelli. That can't come as a surprise: since the beginning of the 18th century England was under the spell of Corelli's music. Composers from abroad - in particular Italians - who wanted to make a career couldn't do better than suggest they were a pupil of Corelli.

Most of the sonatas are in four movements in the common order of slow-fast-slow-fast. There are two exceptions: the Sonata II in d minor and the Sonata IV in a minor both end with two fast movements. But they are very short and in fact are linked in that the second of the two takes the form of a double, in which the material of the first is varied. This could be interpreted as traces of French influence. The fast movements are oft technically demanding, and the basso continuo is vivid and rhythmically pronounced. Sabine Ambos plays the recorder part brilliantly and explores the limited dynamic possibilities of the recorder to the full. Felix Koch and Wiebke Weidanz provide excellent support, with a great rhythmic drive.

Loeillet of London was famous as a highly-skilled harpsichord player and was much sought after as a keyboard teacher. He published two collections of harpsichord pieces: three Lessons (c1712) and 6 Suits of Lessons (1723) from which the Suite V in F is taken. Although the suite is a French form, three of the six movements have Italian descriptions, like corrente, sarabanda and giga. Stylistically they lean more to the Italian than to the French style. They also have little in common with the suites or lessons which were written by native English composers. The suite is technically demanding and reflects Loeillet's skills. It is a piece of considerable substance: here it takes more than 18 minutes and the opening allemande lasts no less than six minutes. Wiebke Weidanz delivers a technically impressive and musically convincing performance.

Jean-Baptiste Loeillet, who called himself 'de Gant', was the eldest son of Pieter. He went to Lyons where he entered the service of Archbishop Paul-François de Neufville de Villeroy, and died between 1720 and 1729. Between around 1710 and 1716 four collections of 12 sonatas each were printed in Amsterdam. These are all scored for recorder and basso continuo. Considering the lasting popularity of the recorder in England it doesn't surprise that these were reprinted by Walsh & Hare. A further 12 sonatas were published in 1717 in two books, for transverse flute, oboe or violin and basso continuo.

Loeillet de Gant's sonatas are all following the Corellian model. Unlike John Loeillet he mixes elements of the sonata da chiesa and the sonata da camera. Some characteristics are the presence of counterpoint, the use of French ornamentation and a notable independence of the basso continuo, which sometimes has a rhythmic pattern of its own.

The artists have made a representative choice from the four opuses of recorder sonatas. Daniel Rothert plays five different recorders, three treble recorders, a sixth flute and a voice flute. The playing is technically immaculate and stylish, and Vanessa Young and Ketil Haugsand deliver good support. On balance this disc is a little less compelling than the recording of sonatas by John Loeillet. I'm not quite sure to what extent that is due to the performances or to the music. I have the feeling a little more could have been made of the sonatas of Loeillet de Gant. But they still are well worth listening to, and particularly lovers of the recorder wiill greatly enjoy both discs.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Mediolanum

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