musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Joseph Bodin DE BOISMORTIER: "Six Suites de Pičces" (Op. 35)

Marek Nahajowski, recorder

rec: Feb 21 - 22, 2016, Poznán (PL), Estrada Poznanska (Galeria Oko/Ucho)
Recart - 0026 (© 2017) (63'01")
Liner-notes: E/PL
Cover & track-list

Suite No. 1 in e minor; Suite No. 2 in G; Suite No. 3 in g minor; Suite No. 4 in D; Suite No. 5 in b minor; Suite No. 6 in A
N.B. These are the original keys; in this recording they are transposed, but the track-list doesn't mention the new keys

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was one of the most prolific composers of his time. Although he composed some music for the stage as well as secular vocal music and also sacred music, his fame was based on his chamber music, which was intended for amateurs. Almost any instrument in vogue in his time is represented in his output in this department, which includes more than 100 opus numbers, published between 1724 and the 1740s. Jean-Benjamin de La Borde (1734-1794), writer on music, stated: "Boismortier appeared at a time when people were only fond of simple and exceedingly easy music. This skilful musician exploited the fashion of the day rather too much and wrote countless songs and duets for the masses, to be played on flutes, violins, oboes, musette de cour, the hurdy-gurdy, and so on." This comment was not meant as a compliment. Not everyone agreed. The booklet to a disc with various pieces of chamber music quotes an obsure Monsieur P., apparently a starting composer who sent Boismortier his work for assessment. He wrote: "[For] you, Monsieur, whose works have always been well received, it is impossible that their sheer quantity should harm their success."

The present disc is devoted to the six suites for transverse flute and basso continuo op. 35, which were published in 1731. The title page says that these suites can be played without basso continuo and include all the ornaments. The latter attests to the pedagogical aspect of many collections of music written by Boismortier and colleagues, such as Michel Corrette. According to Jed Wentz, who recorded these pieces for Brilliant Classics, these works are written in a purely French style. Marek Nahajowski does not entirely share his opinion: "Despite being embedded in the French style aesthetics (particularly in the introductory préludes), the compositions still reveal apparent Italian influences, especially in figured passages of dance movements maintained in fast tempi."

The number of movements varies from four to six, and all the titles are in French. Every suite opens with a prélude with the tempo indication lentement. A number of movements are dances, such as gavotte, menuet, gigue and sarabande. There are also some character pieces: the third movement from the Suite No. 1 is called Les Charites, followed by L'Emerveillée. The former has the structure of a rondeau, a form which gained great popularity in the course of the 18th century; it appears seven times in these suites. Two movements from the 4e Suite have the indication air and the fourth movement of the 5e Suite is called fantasie. What is notable is the absence of any chaconne or passacaille, which in previous times was a fixed part of almost every composition or collection of music as well as operas.

As one may expect, the préludes have an improvisatory character, and that comes well off in Nahajowski's performance. Several movements include wide jumps, which suggests polyphony, for instance the two last movements of the 5e Suite. Such episodes require great skills, and there is no doubt that Nahajowski has them in abundance. I like his breathing style of playing, with a completely natural and logical articulation and phrasing. The movements with the indication musette are played more legato, in line with the character of the instrument to which these movements refer.

In two respects this recording is different from the one by Jed Wentz. The first is that here the suites are played in a version without basso continuo. That is an option offered by Boismortier himself. The second is a bit of a problem: Nahajowski plays the recorder in stead of the transverse flute. In his liner-notes he writes: "The attempts to use low-pitched flutes, typical of French baroque music (the so-called Ton d'Opéra was approximately a whole tone lower than the contemporary one), unfortunately produced unsatisfactory results. This concerned especially the movements disclosing an influence of the Italian style, figured fragments in particular. In order to achieve more brilliance in tone, the final decision was to select a German-style instrument, the replica of Jacob Denner's flute tuned in a'=415 Hz, the fact which concurrently occurred to correspond well with a "cosmopolitan" nature of this music". The last statement is a gently constructed argument in favour of a decision which is historically debatable. The problems Nahajowski describes can only lead to the conclusion that the recorder is not suited for these sonatas.

Most recorder aficionados won't bother about that, and considering the quality of the music and the level of Nahajowski's performances, this issue should not prevent them from adding this disc to their collection. It is an interesting and musically compelling alternative to Jed Wentz's recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

CD Reviews