musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Herman-François DELANGE (1715 - 1781): "Sonate e Sonate a tre"

Ensemble Solstice

rec: Sept 14 - 16, 2010 & March 8, 2011, Franc-Waret, Église Saint-Rémy
Musica Ficta - MF8013 (© 2011) (66'48")
Liner-notes: E/F/N
Cover & track-list

Sonata I in C, op. 1,1 [2]; Sonata II in G, op. 1,2 [2]; Sonata III in b minor, op. 1,3 [2]; Sonata V in D, op. 1,5 [2]; Sonata a 3 II in a minor [1]; Sonata a 3 V in C [1]; Sonata a 3 VI in D [1]

Sources: [1] Sei Sonate a tre strumenti, Violino primo o flauto, Violino secundo e Basso, n.d.; [2] VI Sonate a violino solo e Basso da camera, op. 1, c1745

Isabelle Lamfalussy, transverse flute; Mariette Holtrop, violin; Bernard Wolteche, cello; Bart Jacobs, harpsichord

For a long time Rome was one of the places to be for Italian composers and performing musicians. That was especially the case when composers like Frescobaldi and Carissimi, and later Corelli were working there. This changed gradually during the 1720s and 1730s, when Rome's predominance was shifting towards Naples. The Neapolitan style disseminated across Italy and large parts of Europe. Composers from above the Alps who travelled to Italy in order to expand their horizon went preferably to Naples. That was also the case with Herman-François Delange, a composer from the Southern Netherlands, whose works are probably recorded here for the very first time.

Hermans was born in 1715 in Liège from a family of cobblers. At the age of eight he entered a choir school, and after his voice changed he started to learn the violin at the Jesuit college at Saint-Martin. He then obtained a scholarship from a foundation which allowed him to continue his studies in Rome. It is not quite sure when exactly he was in Italy, but he was there somewhere between 1734 and 1741. He first studied counterpoint with Giovanni Battista Costanzi who at the time was one of Rome's most prominent composers of church music. It is telling that Delange studied counterpoint with him, because sacred music in Rome was always under the spell of the traditional counterpoint, also due to the watchful eye of the ecclesiastical authorities who were suspicious about anything which smelled after opera and secular music in general. After some time in Rome Delange went to Naples, but due to a lack of documentary evidence nothing is known about whom he met and what he heard. There can be little doubt, though, that his style of composing was strongly influenced by the Neapolitan school, of which Durante was one of the most influential representatives.

After his return to the Southern Netherlands he worked as a violinist in various churches until his death. He was also active as a composer. Two operas from his pen are known as well as a number of masses and some secular songs. In the field of instrumental music he composed symphonies and sonatas. A considerable part of his oeuvre has been lost. Delange mostly wrote in the galant idiom, as the pieces on this disc show. They are taken from two collections: a series of six sonatas which have survived in manuscript, and six solo sonatas which were printed a his opus 1.

The trio sonatas are scored for two instruments and basso continuo; the first treble part is for either transverse flute or violin, the second for violin. They are all in three movements, in the order of slow - fast - fast which was the common structure of sonatas in the mid-18th century. Whereas for a long time the sonata da chiesa was the model for composing trio sonatas, these pieces by Delange are moving away from this model. It is telling that only the Sonata a 3 V in C has a fugue, figuring as the work's last movement. Instead of counterpoint it is melody which is predominant.

That is also the case in the sonatas opus 1, which are - according to its title - for violin and bc. But the composer indicated in his foreword that the violin part could also be played at the transverse flute, and he also gave precise instructions as to how to adapt the music for the flute, for instance passages with double-stopping. It is therefore fully legitimate that the Ensemble Solstice presents four sonatas from this opus as flute sonatas. A particular beautiful movement is the closing aria vivace from the Sonata III in b minor, op. 1,3 which is in fact a theme with variations. There are also some theatrical elements, like the andante which opens the Sonata I in C, op. 1,1. Dramatic elements are also present in the trio sonatas, in particular the first and last movements of the Sonata a 3 II in a minor. Some influences of folk music can be discerned in the last sonata of the programme, the Sonata a 3 VI in D, which is largely played legato and suggests the sound of a hurdy-gurdy. The last movement is a real show-stopper, with a notable rhythm and some double-stopping.

The rhythmic pulse of these sonatas comes particularly well off in these performances, thanks to a differentiated treatment of the notes, and a clear distinction between good and bad notes. The theatrical elements are perfectly realised, and in general the ensemble brings gestural interpretations which lift these sonatas from the level of just entertainment. Thanks to the four players of the Ensemble Solstice the versatility of this repertoire is convincingly exposed and it is not hard to agree with Bernard Mouton in his liner-notes that Delange's music deserves a revival. I certainly wouldn't mind to hear more from this composer.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Solstice

CD Reviews