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Joseph Bodin DE BOISMORTIER (1689 - 1755): "Sonatas & Trios"

Le Petit Trianon

rec: Sept 2015, Boyeux-Saint-Jérôme (F), Chapelle de Châtillon-de-Corneille
Ricercar - RIC 381 (© 2017) (69'20")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Première Suite in c minor, op. 59,1 (La Caverneuse; La Décharnée; La Valetudinaire; La Marguillère)a; Sonata in e minor, op. 37,2; Sonata in a minor, op. 37,5; Sonata in D, op. 41,2; Sonata in G, op. 41,3; Sonata in g minor, op. 41,4; Sonata in D, op. 50,6

Sources: V Sonates en trio, pour un dessus et deux basses, suivies d'un concerto a cinq parties, op. 37, 1732; VI Sonates en trio, op. 41, 1732; VI Sonates dont la dernière est en trio pour les violoncelles, bassons ou violes avec la basse, op. 50, 1734; Quatre suites de pieces de clavecin, op. 59, 1736

Olivier Riehl, transverse flute; Amandine Solano, violin; Cyril Poulet, cello; Xavier Marquis, bassoon; Paolo Corsi, harpsichord (soloa)

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, 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 the present recording 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."

It seems that the negative judgment of contemporaries has strongly influenced the reception of Boismortier's oeuvre in modern times. For many years very few discs with his music landed on my desk. That has changed considerably over the last couple of years. Several of his collections have been recorded complete. His Sonatas op. 91, scored for harpsichord and transverse flute, have found particular favour among performers and are available in several recordings. Other discs include single sonatas from several collections. Any instrumentalist can find some good stuff in Boismortier's oeuvre. Not only did he write for almost any instrument, he also often offered alternative scorings for many of his sonatas and suites.

The Sonates en trio op. 41, from which the Sonata in g minor is taken, is a good example. It is played here with flute and violin, but that is only one of the options. These sonatas can also be played on two flutes or on two violins. Obviously this means that the typical features of a specific instrument are mostly not explored. In the case of the violin that means that Boismortier doesn't make use of double stopping. The second piece in the programme is the last of the VI Sonates op. 50. The first five are for two bass instruments, either cellos, viols or bassoons. The last sonata is different in that it is a trio sonata with a violin part. In the VI Sonates op. 37 Boismortier gives the performers even more freedom: they are scored for one treble instrument and two basses. One of the bass parts is the basso continuo, the other bass part can be played on any appropriate instrument, be it a cello, a viol or a bassoon. Here the Sonata in e minor is played on flute and bassoon, whereas in the Sonata in a minor which closes the programme the upper part is played colla parte by flute and violin.

Between the sonatas single pieces for harpsichord are played. The track-list does not indicate from which source they come: these are four of the five movements which constitute the Première Suite in c minor from Boismortier's only collection of Pièces de clavecin which was printed in 1736 as Op. 59.

One wonders why Boismortier's music met stern criticism in his own time. Was it probably that his oeuvre unashamedly demonstrates the increasing influence of Italian music, which French traditionalists considered superficial? Or was it rather envy that Boismortier was able to earn a living by producing up to four editions of music every year? The fact that he even wrote music for such instruments as the musette and the hurdy-gurdy may also have played a role. Fortunately today opinions have changed. Stéphan Perreau ends his liner-notes thus: "Boismortier's chamber works, the very image of the French Regency in their elegance and avid innovation, anchor him ever more firmly at the beginning of the Enlightenment in the history of French music in Paris." That seems a fair judgment, and this disc is a good argument for it. There is no hint of superficiality here. These sonatas may be intended for amateurs, but that doesn't mean that they are easy-listening stuff. The slow movements include some considerable expression and Italian pathos; the largo which opens the Sonata VI from the Op. 50 is a good example. The fast movements include some theatrical moments and contrasting episodes. The interplay between the instruments is always interesting, in the manner of a galant conversation. Just like the French loved it. The performers have captured the spirit of this repertoire perfectly.

Because of the way the programme has been put together, this disc is an ideal introduction to the oeuvre of Boismortier.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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