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Joseph TOUCHEMOULIN (1727 - 1801): "Concertos & Symphonies"

Alexis Kossenko, transverse flutea; Daniel Sepec, violinb; Patrick Ayrton, harpsichordc
Les Inventions
Dir: Patrick Ayrton

rec: April 2007, Dijon, Opéra (auditorium)
Ramée - RAM 0807 (© 2008) (68'34")

Concerto for harpsichord and orchestra in Cc; Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in Aa; Concerto for violin and orchestra in Db; Symphony in G, op. 1,2 [1]; Symphony in F, op. 1,5 [1]

(Sources: [1] 6 simphonies, op. 1, 1761)

The German label Ramée is one of the most interesting labels as far as early music is concerned. It regularly releases recordings of music which is hardly known or by composers who are virtually forgotten. This recording of five compositions by Joseph Touchemoulin is just one example: I had never heard any music by him before, and probably not even heard his name. As so often, his neglect in our time contrasts sharply with the appreciation he experienced in his own time. A part of his oeuvre has been preserved in the archive of the court of Thurn und Taxis in Regensburg which in the 1780s and 1790s was one of the most prominent musical centres of Germany, and whose orchestra was widely admired.

The name Touchemoulin suggests that he was of French birth, and that is correct. He was born in Chalon-sur-Saône as son of an oboist, and it seems likely he received his first music lessons from his father. The strongest influence in the formative years of his career came from the Italian violinist Giuseppe Tartini, whose pupil he was in the early 1750s. His first important position was that of violinist at the court of Prince Elector and Archbishop Clemens August in Bonn. In 1753 his salary was raised considerably, which is an indication of the esteem of his employer. He travelled to Paris where some of his simphonies were performed at the Concert Spirituel and were also printed. After his return to Bonn he was appointed Kapellmeister. But soon after his employer died and his successor so drastically reduced the salaries of the musicians that Touchemoulin resigned. That same year, 1761, he became a violinist in the orchestra of the Prince of Thurn und Taxis in Regensburg.

In the orchestra he had some colleagues of considerable repute, like the violinist Franz Xaver Pokorny. Touchemoulin was appointed Kapellmeister in 1782. In his time the orchestra was of high quality, partly due to the large amount of money the Prince of Thurn und Taxis was willing to spend. The climax was reached in the second half of the 1790s, but this was soon becoming too much because of the effects of the wars in the wake of the French Revolution. It was only in 1806, though, that the orchestra was disbanded. But at that time Touchemoulin had already died.

Relatively little of his oeuvre has been preserved. It is particularly strange that only a handful of his violin concertos are extant. It is assumed that he must have written many more for his own instrument than the five concertos which have come down to us. The Concerto in D which is recorded here, is a fine specimen of his style, and shows the strong influence of Giuseppe Tartini. The Italian master was an advocate of a natural and fluent style. It is certainly not devoid of virtuosity, but it is never his goal. Tartini wanted to move away from the style of Vivaldi, which he considered excessive and against the nature of the instrument. The elegance and melodiousness he preferred make their presence felt in this concerto. Daniel Sepec gives an impressive account of the solo part, with brilliant cadences in all three movements. His tone in the slow movement is of great refinement. Notable is the participation of two horns which reflects the change in the constitution of the orchestra, although here the horn parts are ad libitum.

The Concerto in A is more or less the counterpart of the violin concerto. It is again a piece full of lyricism, and the largo in the middle is a highly delicate affair, with the transverse flute playing its refined part over peaceful moving chords in the strings. Alexis Kossenko plays the fast movements brilliantly, and the largo with delighful subtlety.

The Concerto in C is reminiscent of the keyboard concertos of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The slow movement reflect the style of the Empfindsamkeit. The fast movements bear the traces of the nervousness of the Sturm und Drang. The two flutes play an important role in the orchestra, being involved in a dialogue with the keyboard. Patrick Ayrton delivers a lively performance, and there is a good balance between the harpsichord and the transverse flutes.

The horns participate again in the two symphonies which open and close the programme. These most of all pieces here reflect the styles of the Empfindsamkeit and the Sturm und Drang. Their character is effectively explored by Les Inventions, creating captivating performances.

This is a historically very interesting release, and musically captivating from start to finish. It just shows there is still much to discover in the shadow of the masters.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Les Inventions

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