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Michel CORRETTE (1707 - 1795): Sonatas for Harpsichord & Violin Op. 25

Michael Jarvis, harpsichord; Paul Luchkow, violin

rec: July & Aug 2016, Victoria, BC, New Jerusalem-Christ Church Cathedral (chapel)
Marquis - 774718147523 (© 2017) (73'35")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sonata I in C 'Les Fêtes de Flore'; Sonata II in F 'Les Champs Elysées'; Sonata III in A 'Le Jardin des Hesperides'; Sonata IV in e minor 'Les Amusemens d'Apollon chez le Roi Admète'; Sonata V in D 'Les jeux Olympiques'; Sonata VI in G 'Les Voyages d'Ulysse'

Michel Corrette was one of the most prolific composers of the 18th century in France. Not only did he compose in all genres, except opera, but he also published a large number of treatises. Like most of his compositions, these were intended for the amateurs of his days, who needed instructions on how to play various instruments, and how to interpret the music by Corrette and others.

The present disc includes the complete Op. 25: a set of six sonatas for harpsichord and violin, published in 1742. In Corrette's work-list in New Grove they are not ranked among the chamber music, but the harpsichord works. That would be the correct decision, if the violin part would have been ad libitum, meaning that it can be omitted. In the second half of the 18th century many such pieces were written, but in these sonatas the violin part is obligatory. In the liner-notes, the performers state: "The violin, although described as an accompanimental instrument, is also more than just that: Corrette skilfully uses the violin to enhance the orchestral texture and dynamic nuance of the harpsichord. Imitative writing between the two instruments is very tight, yet playful, with the violin sharing more of a motivic and melodic role in the ensemble".

Corrette undoubtedly was inspired by Jean-Jacques Cassanéa de Mondonville, whose Pièces de clavecin en sonates avec accompagnement de violon op. 3 of 1734 were the first of its kind, emancipating the harpsichord in the ensemble from merely an accompanying role to the principal instrument. Jean-Philippe Rameau, in his famous Pièces de clavecin en concert, took also Mondonville's sonatas as his models.

There is something particularly interesting about the sonatas Op. 25 by Corrette. As one can see in the track-list, they all have titles, which refer to classical mythology. Does that mean that we have to do here with descriptive or even programmatic sonatas? That is hard to say. All the sonatas, except the sixth, only have a general title for the whole piece, and that makes it hard to exactly define what every movement is about. The last sonata is much more specific, and can be considered more or less programmatic. It is about the well-known story of Ulysses and Calypso. The first movement opens with the storm (Tempeste) which makes Ulysses falling overboard and swimming to Calypso's island. The second movement is about his stay at the island, and the closing movement describes his joy, when he leaves Calypso who has been told by the gods to let him go.

The first sonata refers to Flora, the goddess of flowers and of spring. The title indicates that this sonata depicts the festival, known as Floralia, which was held around 1 May. The second movement is a musette, which often referred to the countryside. The same is the case in the third sonata, entitled 'the garden of the Hesperides'. In Greek mythology, they were the nymphs of the evening and sunset. The garden was situated near the Atlas Mountains in northern Africa.

The second sonata is about the Elysian Fields, a Greek conception of afterlife; these fields were located at the western edge of the earth, later somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Corrette may also have depicted here the gardens of this name in Paris, which in his time were a fashionable avenue of trees and gardens. The middle movement is a wonderful aria, with the addition affettuoso, quiet and peaceful. As there is no description of the meaning of the various sonatas and movements from the composer, the interpreters have the freedom to use their own imagination. That is the case in the fifth sonata, which is about the Olympic Games. They see the two fast movements as musical illustrations of the various sports, whereas the middle movement, called aria, again with the addition affettuoso, is interpreted as a depiction of the religious ceremonies and sacrifices to Zeus held during the Games.

The fourth sonata is then again about a mythological character, King Admetus of Pherae in Thessaly. Being renowned for his hospitality, he is served by Apollo, when he was sentenced to a year of servitude as punishment for killing the serpent Delphyne. Particularly interesting is the interpretation of the closing movement. "When Admetus neglected to pay tribute to the goddess Artemis, Apollo's sister, Artemis filled the king's bedchamber with snakes, until Apollo convinced her to relent, which Corrette possibly had in mind when he composed the third movement". And indeed, in the many garlands in the parts of both harpsichord and violin, one could probably see the wriggling of snakes.

The titles of these sonatas are intriguing and the interpretation of their meaning by the artists is interesting. However, one doesn't need to know for sure what Corrette had in mind or even be aware of those titles to enjoy these sonatas, which are very well written. The harpsichord part is technically challenging, for instance through its hand crossings. As we have already seen, the violin part is also more than just an accompaniment. The artists were impressed by these sonatas, and there is a good chance that you will be impressed as well, when you listen to them. I urge you to investigate this disc, because of the character and the quality of these sonatas, but also because of the splendid performances by Michael Jarvis and Paul Luchkow. Some years ago they delighted us with their recording of sonatas by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and this disc is just as good as the previous one. There is an excellent rapport between these artists and together they bring out all the qualities of these sonatas. The only issue is probably the balance between the harpsichord and the violin. I would have preferred the harpsichord to have a little more presence. However, this may well be a matter of interpretation rather than recording technique.

In the end, it hardly matters. This is a most delightful disc, which will give you a lot of pleasure. It also shows that Corrette was a very fine composer, who deserves more attention than he has been given to date.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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