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Joan Baptista (before 1728 - 1773) & Josep (1728 - 1762) PLA: "Trios per a oboès"
Rossi Piceno

rec: Nov 2005, Basse-Bodeux (B), Église de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Ramée - RAM 0603 (© 2006) (56'44")

Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor; Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in C; Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in E flat; Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in F; Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in G; Sonata for oboe, violin and bc in d minor

Emiliano Rodolfi, Andreas Helm, oboe; Marian Minnen, cello; Raül Moncada, harpsichord; with Ayako Matsunaga, violin; Wim Maesele, theorbo, guitar

The brothers Joan Baptista and Josep Pla belonged to the growing echelon of travelling virtuosos who played in various places in Europe in the era between baroque and classicism. They were from a Catalan family of oboists and composers. Their brother Manuel worked in Madrid as a military musician and composer of theatre music, who also played the violin and the harpsichord. Joan Baptista and Josep left the country as there wasn't that much interest in chamber music in Spain. They travelled through Europe, performing at various courts and concert halls. In 1755 and 1759 respectively they were appointed cammer-musici at the court of Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg, whose orchestra was led by Nicolò Jommelli and was considered one of the best of its time.

They also performed in the Concerts Spirituels in Paris, where their playing was received with great enthusiasm, as a review in the Mercure de France shows. It wrote that their playing was "full of good taste and finess". "They leave nothing to wish for, neither in the sweetness of the sounds, nor in the delicacy of the lines, nor in the manner and the precision of their playing. (...) Monsieur Pla deserves to be regarded as the best oboist in Europe, and seems to have joined all the passion of his brother to his own particular talents". In 1762 Josep died, and Joan Baptista continued to perform as a virtuoso on the oboe, the bassoon and the dulcimer.

Who the Mercure de France meant when it was talking about 'Monsieur Pla' isn't quite clear. And that is also the problem of attributing the various compositions by the two brothers, as the composer was simply referred to as 'Pla', without any specification. The confusion about the authorship could well have led to these works being virtually neglected. A lack of quality can't be the reason: the sonatas recorded here are often virtuosic, and always captivating, varied and surprising.

These sonatas are typically products of the era around 1750, as they contain elements of the baroque style as well as the galant idiom. All sonatas are written in three movements: fast - moderate - fast. The first movements are often dramatic and full of contrasts, whereas the second movements - all andantes, with the exception of the Sonata in F, whose second movement is a larghetto - are rich in expression. A good example of the latter is the andante of the Sonata in E flat, which is full of Seufzer. The last movements have mostly the character of a divertimento.

I have read somewhere that these sonatas are rather superficial. I strongly disagree, as my description already indicates. I even think these sonatas belong to the most interesting 'discoveries' of recent years. And fortunately they are served by really outstanding performances. The technical skills of the interpreters is impressive. But what is more important, they show their joy in playing this repertoire. They deliver such swinging performances that it is difficult to keep the feet still. The interpretations are characterised by great attention to the rhythmic pulse and fine dynamic shades which include the messa di voce. The dramatic aspects of these sonatas are fully explored and the often surprising twists and turns and the general pauses - for instance in the allegro of the Sonata in G - are well realised.

In short, this is an exemplary production, as the recording and the booklet are first-rate too. But this disc is first and foremost an impressive tribute to the Pla brothers and their skills as performers and composers.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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