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"The Parisian Symphony"

Jodie Devosa, Sophie Karthäuserb, soprano; Jennifer Borghi, mezzo-sopranoc; Jean-Paul Madeuf, trumpetd; Jan De Winne, transverse flutee; Benoît Laurent, oboef; Eric Hoeprichg, Guy Van Waash, clarinet; Jane Gower, bassooni; Patrick Cohën-Akenine, violinj; François Poly, cellok
Les Agrémens
Dir: Guy Van Waas

rec: 2002 - 2014
Ricercar - RIC 357 (7 CDs) (© 2015) (8.48'12")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

[CD 1] André-Modeste GRÉTRY (1741-1813): Anacréon chez Polycrateb [3]; Céphale et Procrisb [3]; Concerto for transverse flute and orchestra in Ce [4]; La Caravane du Caireb [3]; Les Deux Avaresb [3]
[CD 2] François-Joseph GOSSEC (1734-1829): Sabinus (suite de ballets) [5]; Symphonie concertante for violin, cello and orchestra in Djk [4]; Symphony in E flat, op. 8,1 [5]; Symphony in F, op. 8,2 [5]; Symphony in E flat, op. 8,3 [5]
[CD 3] François-Joseph GOSSEC: Symphony in D, op. 12,1 [2]; Symphony in C, op. 12,3 [2]; Symphony in E flat, op. 12,5 [2]; Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792): Symphony in D (VB 143) [6]; Johann STAMITZ (1717-1757): Concerto for clarinet and orchestra in B flath [2]
[CD 4] Antoine-Frédéric GRESNICK (1755-1799): Symphonie concertante for clarinet, bassoon and orchestra in B flatgi [4]; Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Symphony in B flat 'La Reine' (H I,85) [6]; Ludwig Auguste LEBRUN (1752-1790): Concerto for oboe and orchestra in Cf [7]; Dieudonné-Pascal PIELTAIN (1754-1833): Concerto for violin and orchestra No. 3 in B flatj [4]
[CD 5] Franz Joseph HAYDN Symphony in f sharp minor 'Abschied' (H I,45) [6]; Symphony in C 'L'Ours' (H I,82) [7]; Symphony in D (H I,86) [7]
[CD 6] Ludwig VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827): Symphony No. 2 in D, op. 36; Franz Joseph HAYDN: Concerto for trumpet and orchestra in E flat (H VIIe,1)d Miseri noi, misera patria, cantata (H XXIVa,7)a
[CD 7] [1] Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782): Amadis de Gaule (Warb G 39) (1779) (Bientôt l'ennemi qui m'outrage)c; Christoph Willibald VON GLUCK (1714-1787): Alceste (1776) (Divinités du Styx)c; Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) (Non, cet affreux devoir)c; Orphée et Euridice (1774) (Ballet des Ombres heureuses; Air de Furie); Louis-Ferdinand HÉROLD (1791-1833): Lasthénie (1823) (Songez que dans le mariage)c; Symphony No. 2 in D; Rodolphe KREUTZER (1766-1831): Ipsiboé (1824) (Anciens maîtres de la Provence)c; Jean-Baptiste LEMOYNE (1751-1796): Phèdre (1786) (Hippolyte succombe)c; Étienne-Nicolas MÉHUL (1763-1817): Valentine de Milan (1808) (Vaillant guerrier)c; Antonio SALIERI (1750-1825): Overture Les Danaïdes; Gaspare SPONTINI (1774-1851): Olympie (1819) (Ô déplorable mère)c

Original releases: [1] RIC 150; [2] RIC 218; [3] RIC 234; [4] RIC 242; [5] RIC 263; [6] RIC 277; [7] RIC 309

One of the most remarkable developments in the music scene of the last fifteen years or so is the strong interest in the music written and/or performed in France in the second half of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th. The Belgian conductor Guy Van Waas plays a key role in this development; the recordings with his orchestra Les Agrémens brought together in the present set bear witness to that. In the track-list you will see various names of composers who are hardly known. That goes, for instance, for Dieudonné-Pascal Pieltain, Antoine-Frédérick Gresnick and Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. Composers such as Grétry and Gossec are certainly not unknown quantities, but until recently their music was hardly ever played, let alone recorded. Alexandre Dratwicki, in his liner-notes to the recording which is included here as CD 7 (the liner-notes are only in the separate release), opens his essay with the sentence: "There is no French music between Rameau and Berlioz", to sum up the general view about this period. These recordings - and others, for instance by conductors like Christophe Rousset and Hervé Niquet - attest to the opposite.

Until the beginning of the 18th century Italian music was not appreciated in France, and music from Germany was barely known. This was going to change during the 18th century. In public concerts such as the Concert Spirituel founded in 1725 Italian compositions, including those by Vivaldi, were regularly performed, and French composers presented their own works which were strongly influenced by the Italian style. A notable example was the violinist Jean-Marie Leclair. In the second half of the century there was a growing openness towards influences from elsewhere. Various German keyboard players settled in Paris, for instance Johann Gottfried Eckard, Johann Schobert and Nicolas-Joseph Hüllmandel. In the realm of orchestral music the name of Haydn has to be mentioned. He was one of the most popular composers in Paris: his name appeared on the programmes of the Concert Spirituel more than one hundred times between April 1773 and May 1790 when the organization was disbanded. In 1784 his Symphony No. 45, known - in English - as Farewell, was performed. His popularity resulted in Joseph Boulogne, also known as Chevalier de Saint-George, commissioning him in 1785 to compose six symphonies for the Concerts de la Loge Olympique whose musical director he was. The liner-notes in this set make no mention of any performances of a symphony by Joseph Martin Kraus, but it is quite possible that the Symphony in D was performed as it was published in Paris under Haydn's name.

Haydn's Paris symphonies belong to his most frequently performed orchestral works and even Kraus' symphonies have been recorded complete (Concerto Köln; Capriccio, 1991 and 1992 respectively). Far lesser known are the symphonies by François-Joseph Gossec, one of various musicians and composers from Wallonia - the French-speaking part of what is now known as Belgium - who settled in Paris. He was educated as a violinist and bass player in the orchestra of Le Riche de La Pouplinière, who for many years was the patron of Rameau. This had a lasting influence on his development as a composer as he came into contact with other composers and other styles. It was especially the performances of Johann Stamitz, one of the main representatives of the 'Mannheim school' which inspired him to compose symphonies. CDs 3 and 4 include his three symphonies op. 8 and three symphonies from his op. 12. In 1769 he founded the concert society Concert des Amateurs whose orchestra was quite large in comparison to what was common at the time. In 1773 he took over the direction of the Concert Spirituel.

That same year he performed his first work for the stage: Sabinus; a ballet suite from this work is included on CD 2. When Gluck (represented here on CD 7) made his appearance in Paris and his Iphigénie en Aulide was performed in 1774 it caused a verbal war between supporters of his style and the defenders of traditional French opera. Gossec was on Gluck's side and the latter's style influenced his composition of Thésée (recorded complete by Guy Van Waas; RIC 337) which was part of attempts to revive the tragédie lyriques of Lully and Quinault in a modernized form. Fom 1780 onwards Gossec became involved in the activities of the Opéra.

Another important composer of music for the stage was André-Modeste Grétry, born in Liège. He was educated as a violinist, and having studied in Italy he met Voltaire in Geneva who told him: "Go to Paris, for there you will obtain immortality". Grétry arrived in 1767 and developed into one of the most successful composers of music for the stage, especially opéras comiques. These works were considered alternatives to the serious tragédies lyriques. The subjects were taken from everyday life, they included spoken dialogues instead of recitatives and simpler and lighter ariettas. The first disc of this set offers extracts from several of Grétry's comedies and ballets. Céphale et Procris dates from 1773 and has been recorded complete by Guy Van Waas (RIC 302). The same goes for La Caravane du Caire (RIC 345). The French Revolution had major effects on music life: in 1793 the Convention Nationale decided that compositions should "suitably depict the principles of equality and freedom" and the authors of works which "might corrupt the public taste and awaken shameful Royalist superstition" were to be punished. From this time dates Anacréon chez Polycrate (1797).

Grétry almost exclusively composed music for the stage. The first disc includes his only solo concerto, the Concerto in C for transverse flute and orchestra. Although solo concertos had been written previously by French composers - for instance Leclair, who wrote twelve violin concertos - it was a relatively new form of orchestral music. Johann Stamitz was one of the promotors of the relatively new clarinet; his best-known Concerto in B flat is included on CD 3. Other solo concertos which can be heard here are the Concerto in C by Ludwig August Lebrun - one of the most famous oboists of his time, who performed across Europe - and the Concerto in B flat for violin by Dieudonné-Pascal Pieltain, a professional violinist who, like Grétry, was from Liège. He was a regular soloist at the Concert Spirituel. In 1782 he went to London where he participated in concerts organized by Lord Abingdon.

The form of the sinfonia concertante was particularly popular. When Mozart visited Paris in 1778 he planned to compose a sinfonia concertante for the wind players from Mannheim who were to perform in the Concert Spirituel; however, it did not materialize. This set includes several specimens of compositions in this genre which were usually in two movements. Gossec composed a small number of such pieces; one of them is the Symphonie concertante in D for violin and cello (CD 2). A further specimen is the Symphonie concertante in B flat for clarinet and bassoon by Antoine-Frédéric Gresnick, another composer from Liège. He was educated as a cellist and was mainly active as a composer of music for the stage. For a number of years he lived in Lyon. The sinfonia concertante is his only contribution to the genre; it bears witness to the growing popularity of the clarinet in France.

The first five discs of this set are a compilation of six recordings previously released by Ricercar. Fortunately they are included here complete, only divided differently over these five discs. It is a shame that the booklet omits references to the original discs; I have included them here and details about them can be found on Presto Classical.

Two discs remain. The sixth includes new recordings which seem not to be available separately. That is regrettable as a number of music lovers may already have the discs discussed so far. On the other hand: how many are really waiting for another recording of Beethoven's Symphony No. 2? Haydn's Concerto in E flat for trumpet is also very well known and widely available, also on period instruments. Haydn's cantata Miseri noi, misera patria is probably not that well-known but it takes less than 10 minutes and that seems no argument in favour of this set for those who already have the rest. It is also a bit of a mystery why this disc has been included as its connection to French music life is rather speculative. The liner-notes say that Haydn's cantata may have been performed alongside his symphonies and his Stabat mater, but there seem to be no evidence of that whatsoever. The trumpet concerto is not even mentioned; Jérôme Lejeune only refers to the technical development of the instrument around 1800. Beethoven's symphonies were greatly admired by Berlioz and the liner-notes end with his comments on the second. However, there is no mention of any performance of this work in Paris.

The seventh disc has been released separately, but - according to Presto Classical - a couple of months after this compilation. That is rather odd. It means that those who have purchased this set because of that new recording have to do without the liner-notes by Alexandre Dratwicki which are included in the separate release. The booklet of this set only mentions the Symphony No. 2 in D by Hérold. Even worse, they have to do without the lyrics. This disc sheds light on the development of opera in Paris from Gluck and Johann Christian Bach to Spontini and Hérold. The stylistic developments come clearly to the fore here, not only in the vocal part but also - maybe even more pronounced - in the orchestral part. The names attest to the international character of music life in the French capital. Dratwicki mentions several composers who attempted to contribute to the revival of the tragédie lyrique: Lemoyne from France, Grétry and Gossec from Wallonia, Johann Christoph Vogel from Germany and Italians such as Piccinni, Sacchini and Salieri. Some of these attempts failed, mostly because of a weak libretto or a mediocre performance. The form of the arias strongly differs; Lemoyne's aria from Phèdre is a mixture of elements from the spoken theatre and opera. The orchestral scoring of that aria is also rather uncommon: two bassoons, three trombones and strings. Some composers took themes and plots from classical French authors, such as Voltaire, Racine and Corneille. One example is Spontini's Olympie. O déplorable mère is a monologue in which the orchestra plays a substantial part. Dratwicki mentions that Berlioz considered Spontini his forerunner.

Those who have a special interest in opera are well advised to purchase the original discs with vocal items, especially because of the presence of the lyrics. That not only goes for the last disc of this set, but also for the first, with extracts from stage works by Grétry. The latter are nicely sung by Sophie Karthäuser who has a good feeling for the music theatre and is also stylistically mostly convincing. Only in 'Fra l'orror della tempesta' from Grétry's La Caravane du Caire she uses too much vibrato and the cadenza seems too long. The isolation of single arias is not ideal; that is particularly the case with the very dramatic pieces which are included on CD 7. Jennifer Borghi regularly participates in recordings of French operas; from a dramatic point of view her performances are outstanding, but stylistically her incessant vibrato is hard to swallow.

The inclusion of symphonies by Haydn is obvious, but is not that interesting from an angle of repertoire. The Paris symphonies rank among Haydn's most frequently recorded works and Guy Van Waas delivers good performances but probably not really up to the competition. That is partly due to the recording: some symphonies suffer from too much reverberation. The orchestral pieces by Gossec and the concertante works by composers from Liège are the most interesting part of this set. These are well played, and the soloists give outstanding accounts of their parts. Jean-François Madeuf plays a keyed trumpet in Haydn's trumpet concerto; I especially like the swift tempo of the andante which is faster than I have heard before.

All things said and done, the importance of exploring this repertoire can hardly be overestimated. These recordings fill major gaps in the discography and are well worth investigating. However, if you have a more than average interest in this repertoire you should consider looking out for the original releases which are still available.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Jennifer Borghi
Jodie Devos
Benoît Laurent
Les Agrémens

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