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Concerts, Sonatas & Trios from France, 1766-1768

[I] Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683 - 1764), arr anon: "Concerts en sextuor"
Les Dominos
Dir: Florence Malgoire
rec: April 2014, Siran (F), Eglise Notre-Dame de Centeilles
Ricercar - RIC 350 (© 2014) (77'00")
Liner-notes: E/F/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Serge Saitta, Amélie Michel, transverse flute, piccolo; Florence Malgoire, Stéphanie de Failly, Sue Ying Koang, violin; Simon Heyerick, viola; Claire Giardelli, basse de violon à cinq cordes; Cyril Poulet, cello; Evolène Kiener, bassoon; Laurent Stewart, harpsichord

[II] François-Joseph GOSSEC, Marie-Alexandre GUÉNIN: "Deux violonistes dans la tourmente révolutionnaire"
Ensemble Hemiola
rec: August 28 - 31, 2011, Moulins, Chapelle Sainte Claire
Eurydice - LE001 (50'17")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Marie-Alexandre GUÉNIN (1744-1835): Trio op. 1,4; Trio op. 1,6; François-Joseph GOSSEC (1734-1829): Sonata in E flat, op. 9,1 (B 46)a [1]; Sonata in F, op. 9,3 (B 48)a [1]

Sources: [1] François-Joseph Gossec, Six Trios, op. 9, 1766; [2] Marie-Alexandre Guénin, Six trios dont les trois premiers ne doivent s'exécuter qu'à trois et les autres avec tout l'orchestre, op. 1, 1768

François Nicolet, transverse flute; Jon Olaberria, oboe; Niels Coppalle, bassoon; Bérengère Maillarda, Emmanuel Resche, violin I, viola; Patrizio Germonea, Alfia Bakieva, violin II; Claire Lamquet, celloa; Elodie Seyranian, harpsichorda

The two discs which are the subject of this review include music which dates from between 1766 and 1768. At least, those are the years of publication of the music by François-Joseph Gossec and Marie-Alexandre Guénin respectively and 1768 is also the year mentioned on the title page of the violin I part of the Concerts en sextuor by Rameau. Obviously in the latter case we have to do with arrangements as the composer died four years before. The works on these two discs are also connected as far as their scoring is concerned.

The VI Concerts de Monsieur Rameau have been preserved in manuscript. They were part of the music collection of the Decroix family which was donated to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in 1843. The title page of the violin I part not only mentions the year but also the name Decroix. This refers to Jacques Joseph Marie Decroix (1746-1826), a lawyer from Lille. This does not imply that it was he who actually wrote these pieces. The manuscript shows that several hands have been involved in the creation of these works. The collection is not a recent discovery; it was included in the first edition of Rameau's complete works by Camille Saint-Saëns from 1894 onward. The first recording dates from 1952.

These pieces are arrangements of the Pièces de clavecin en concert which Rameau published in 1741. These were written for harpsichord with additional parts for a violin or a transverse flute and a viola da gamba. The publisher added a second violin part which could replace the viola da gamba part, probably in order to increase sales. The arrangement is scored for three violins, taille and bass. The first violin takes the upper part of the harpsichord, the second violin the original flute/violin part, the third violin the part of the viola da gamba, whereas the taille and the bass share the inner parts and the left hand of the harpsichord. Despite the division in five parts these concertos were edited as Concerts en sextuor. This can be explained from the fact that the fifth partbook is intended for "basses and bassoons". There are several passages in which more than one note has to be played simultaneously. Double-stopping is one option, but some of these passages are divided over two staves and these are sometimes marked with indications for 'bassoon', 'cello' and 'bass'.

There is no uniformity in view as to how many instruments should be used in a performance of these concertos. At the end of the violin III part a notice is added which says that if there are two players to a part, one should play the upper notes and the other the lower. This does not indicate that one should use two players. In his liner-notes Jérôme Lejeune believes that both one player and two players per part are unlikely. "We know (...) that two players per part is not ideal for good intonation; 'to a part' can also mean two players sharing the same score (...)." The parts for the violins and the viola use chords of two or even three notes, "sometimes even superimposing one melodic line over another; this last effect is often unplayable by one instrument and must therefore have been divided between two players (...)".

He excludes the possibility of an orchestra. "It is impossible to imagine that there was an orchestra around 1768 that was made up of only strings and bassoon: it simply did not exist". He then refers to Johann Stamitz entering the service of Rameau's employer Le Riche de La Lapoplinière in 1754 and with it the influence of the Mannhein orchestra whose driving force the German had been for a number of years. As a result woodwind and horns entered the French orchestra. "It is simply not possible to imagine Rameau's orchestra without at least a flute and a bassoon".

What we have here is a performance for a chamber ensemble with two flutes (sometimes replaced by piccolos), three violins - with a basse de violon à cinq cordes for large sections of the Violin III part -, a cello, a bassoon and a harpsichord, despite the fact that the bass is not figured. With this line-up these pieces are not so much different from the two trios by Marie-Alexandre Guénin which the Ensemble Hemiola has recorded.

Guénin was educated as a violinist and became first violin in the orchestras of the Opéra and the Concert Spirituel in 1771. As a soloist he performed sinfonias concertante by the likes of Carl Stamitz and Le Duc. He also played in the orchestra of the Loge Olympique for which Haydn composed his 'Paris' symphonies. His trios op. 1 are his first collection which was published. The first three trios are for the conventional scoring of two treble instruments and basso continuo, whereas the remaining three are conceived for a performance with orchestra. Again the question is here how many instruments should be involved. The Ensemble Hemiola has chosen the same option as Les Dominos: a chamber ensemble with strings and wind - here two violins, viola, cello, transverse flute, oboe, bassoon and harpsichord. These pieces can be compared with the orchestral trios which we know from Johann Stamitz. Can we see here his direct influence as well? His orchestral trios were also originally published with a basso continuo part. As not always all the instruments are involved we get a contrast between soli and tutti here.

The two other works are by François-Joseph Gossec who was Guénin's composition teacher. He is best known for his works for the stage, but also composed many symphonies and a large corpus of chamber music. The two sonates en trio seem conventional pieces for two violins and basso continuo at first sight. However, the op. 9 which was published in 1766 includes two ad libitum horn parts. Such pieces were quite common at the time. Johann Schobert was one of those who published a number of collections of music with ad libitum parts for strings and for wind, including horns.

These two discs shed light on an aspect of performance practice in the 1760s and 1770s when France was moving from the baroque style to the classical era. Gossec was one of the main composers at the time, and one could argue that Rameau in some ways was one of the forerunners of the classical style in France. In this respect these two discs nicely complement each other.

As far as the performances are concerned, I am quite impressed by the vivid, colourful and contrasting style of playing of the Ensemble Hemiola. I find the scoring of Guénin's trios totally convincing, even though a larger orchestra seems to be a legitimate option as well. The title page of his op. 1 doesn't specify the term 'orchestra'. In contrast I am a little disappointed by Les Dominos' reading of the Concerts en sextuor. The 1er and 2e Tambourin en rondeau from the 3e Concert come off pretty well, but the opening pieces of the 4th and 5th concertos, La Pantomime and La Forqueray respectively, are rather tame. The rhythm is often a little underexposed and the articulation could have been clearer.

As one will have noticed the collection VI Concerts de Monsieur Rameau includes six concertos. The sixth includes four movements which are transcriptions of pieces from Rameau's Suite in G which is part of the Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de clavecin of 1728. The ensemble has added its own transcription of Les Sauvages from the same suite - Rameau's own transcription of the air de ballet from Les Indes Galantes.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Hemiola

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