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Louis-Gabriel GUILLEMAIN (1705 - 1770): "Flute Quartets Op. 12"

Wilbert Hazelzet, transverse flute; Fantasticus

rec: Oct 3 - 6, 2017, Diemen (NL), Schuilkerk De Hoop
Resonus Classics - RES10222 (2 CDs) (© 2018) (87'00")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata No. 1 in G, op. 12,1; Sonata No. 2 in b minor, op. 12,2; Sonata No. 3 in d minor, op. 12,3; Sonata No. 4 in A, op. 12,4; Sonata No. 5 in F, op. 12,5; Sonata No. 6 in C, op. 12,6

Rie Kimura, violin; Robert Smith, viola da gamba; Guillermo Brachetta, harpsichord

From the second quarter of the 18th century onwards, many collections of chamber music appeared across Europe, intended for the growing market of musical amateurs. These were not only aristocrats, but increasingly also well-to-do citizens, for whom domestic music making with family and friends was an important way to pass the time. It explains not only the large amounts of music, but also the moderate technical requirements imposed on the performers. Although we should not underestimate the qualities of the amateurs of that time, composers in this kind of repertoire did not go to the bottom of things.

In the case of Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, whose quartets Op. 12 are the subject of the twofer reviewed here, there was another reason to make his music not too difficult. He maintained a rather extravagant lifestyle and was active as a collector of carpets and furniture. That often brought him into financial difficulties, and in order to increase his income, he had to make sure that his music sold well.

He himself was known as a great violin virtuoso. Like Jean-Marie Leclair, he studied with the famous violin teacher and composer Giovanni Battista Somis in Turin. At the age of 24, he started to work in the opera orchestra of Lyon. Between 1725 and 1738 he was the first violinist of the Académie de Musique in Dijon. He found a patron in Monsieur Chartraire de Bourbonne, who gave him the opportunity to travel to Italy again to broaden his musical horizon. In 1734 he published his first collection of sonatas, for violin and basso continuo, which he dedicated to his patron. Shortly thereafter he went to Paris, where he entered the service of the court of Louis XV, in a modest function. After some time he rose to the status of one of the best-paid musicians at the court. That did not prevent his getting into financial difficulties, and in 1770 he died under unclear circumstances. It is generally assumed that the financial worries were too much for him and that he committed suicide.

The sonatas of 1734 were followed by seventeen further collections of instrumental music in various scorings. Among them are pieces for two instruments without accompaniment - for example for musettes or transverse flutes - but also sonatas for harpsichord with accompaniment of violin (such as the Op. 13) and trio sonatas dans le goût italien. In 1740, Guillemain published a collection of quartets - called concertinos - for two violins, viola and basso continuo. His quartets Op. 12 came from the press in 1743; he called them sonates en quatuor ou conversations galantes. This last term refers to what was then the ideal of the higher classes: music that was pleasant to the ear and was technically not too demanding. This collection was followed in 1756 by a second volume as his Op. 17, for the same scoring: transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo.

Many music lovers will recognize this scoring from the so-called Parisian quartets of Telemann. His Nouveaux quatuors en six suites were published in Paris in 1738. This form was very popular at the time, and other French composers also wrote such music. The scoring is a mixture of modern and traditional. The violin was only taken seriously after 1700, when the Italian style became increasingly influential. The transverse flute was the most popular instrument among amateurs, whereas the viola da gamba recalled the heyday of the pure French style.

Guillemain's quartets are stylistically modern in the sense that the opening movements have an early sonata-allegro form, in which the first theme is followed by a second, separated by a transitional episode, after which the first returns. With the exception of sonatas 3 and 5, the quartets are in three movements, according to the liner-notes in the order fast - slow - fast. That is not quite true; the second movements have the same title: aria, with the addition grazioso. That does not necessarily indicate a slow tempo. The interpreters don't play them slowly either; they mostly play them at a moderate pace, and 'andante' would probably be the most accurate tempo indication. The only real slow movement is the larghetto from the Sonata No. 3.

This is elegant music, fitting in with the ideal of a galant conversation as indicated above. That is not to say that this music is merely easy listening stuff. These sonatas are not devoid of contrasts, both between individual movements and between different episodes within movements, which keep the listener's attention. Those come off perfectly in these performances. This is highly entertaining music, which receives excellent performances. In these quartets the instruments are treated on equal footing, but that is a little underexposed here. I often found the flute too dominant in proportion to the violin. I cannot judge whether that is due to Rie Kimura's playing, which may be a little too restrained, or to the recording.

In sum: anyone who likes baroque chamber music will undoubtedly enjoy this production.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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