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François DEVIENNE (1759 - 1803): "Trios op. 17 & op. 66"

Le Petit Trianon

rec: June 2019, Centeilles, Église Notre-Dame
Ricercar - RIC 416 (© 2020) (71'31")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Trio for bassoon, violin and cello in F, op. 17,4; Trio for bassoon, violin and cello in E flat, op. 17,5; Trio for transverse flute, violin and cello in D, op. 66,1; Trio for transverse flute, violin and cello in g minor, op. 66,2; Trio for transverse flute, violin and cello in C, op. 66,3

Olivier Riehl, transverse flute; Xavier Marquis, bassoon; Amandine Solano, violin; Cyril Poulet, cello

François Devienne is one of the main exponents of the classical period in France. The music written and performed in Paris at the time is not that well-known, as the three Viennese classical composers Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven receive most of the attention in modern concert life. Thanks to some performers, such as Guy Van Waas and Christophe Rousset, French classical operas have been put on the map. Now and then, individual performers and ensembles shed light on the forgotten masters of the classical era in France. One of these is Le Petit Trianon, who recorded five trios for a wind instrument, violin and cello by Devienne.

Devienne was himself a famous performer on the transverse flute and the bassoon. Wind instruments were very popular in France in the last decades of the 18th century. At the Concert Spirituel, the main concert organisation in Paris, solo concertos for a wind instrument and in particular symphonies concertante with several solo parts for wind instruments were frequently performed. Devienne also regularly made an appearance at these concerts, both in solo concertos and symphonies concertante. He also participated in the penultimate concert in April 1790.

Devienne was also an important teacher. He was one of the founding professors at the École de musique municipale, which in 1795 became the Conservatoire de Paris. In 1793 he published his Méthode de flûte, which became the main treatise on playing the flute and held this status for a long time. Devienne lived in a time which saw several technical changes in the construction of the flute, especially the addition of keys. Devienne did not entirely reject these developments, but remained somewhat sceptical. "It does not, however, follow that I wish to denigrate the small keys that careful research has caused to be added to the ordinary flute, with the purpose of correcting the muffled sounds in the instrument's low register such as the G sharp or A flat, the B flat or A sharp: they are particularly necessary in slow movements and especially when the notes I have mentioned above are sustained. Although I personally do not use them, I do approve of them, but only in the above cases."

The performers have selected trios from two collections. The most uncommon are the trios for bassoon, violin and cello. In the baroque period, the bassoon mainly participated in the performance of the basso continuo, in particular in chamber music with wind instruments. Sometimes it was given an obbligato part in instrumental or vocal music. However, sonatas and solo concertos from the first part of the 18th century are rather rare. Devienne was one of the main players of the bassoon in France in his time. Another one was Étienne Ozi, who was the soloist in the first performance of a work by Devienne in the Concert Spirituel in 1780. From that, one may conclude that he was a colleague rather than a rival. The six trios op. 17 date from around 1782. They consist of two movements, which is a feature of the galant idiom, in which they are written.

The trios with flute have the opus number 66 and date from 1783, according to Jérôme Lejeune in his liner-notes. There is considerable confusion about this opus, as there is also a set of quartets for flute and strings with the same opus number, and New Grove mentions two sets of trios for flute, violin and cello with this opus number which date from 1795 and 1798 respectively. Whatever is the case, stylistically they are close to the bassoon trios. These trios come in three movements; the first is mostly in the sonata form, whereas the closing movements are either rondeaus or series of variations.

In both collections the wind instrument takes a prominent role and has the traces of a solo part. That does not mean that the two string instruments take a back seat all the time. The opening movement of the Trio in g minor, op. 66,2 includes episodes in which the flute and the violin play in parallel motion, with the cello providing the bass. In the closing allegretto con variazione of the Trio in C, op. 66,3, on the other hand, the two strings have independent parts. There are quite some surprises now and then, for instance the pauses in the opening movement of the latter trio. A meaningful episode is the closing stage of the opening movement of the first trio from the Op. 66: after a pause the cello takes the lead and plays a marked descending figure, which it repeats several times after the entrance of the flute and the violin. This passage represents a dark streak in this movement. The adagio is quite expressive, and it is followed by a light-hearted allegretto con variazione.

It shows that there is quite some variety within these trios. It is easy to understand why Devienne was such a popular composer. It is regrettable that today so little of his oeuvre is performed and available on disc. The exceptions are two flute concertos. His oeuvre is quite large and deserves more attention. The present disc is an important contribution to a Devienne revival, which is long overdue. The members of Le Petit Trianon are the best possible advocates of Devienne's music. I have greatly enjoyed this disc, because of Devienne's delightful music and because of Le Petit Trianon's engaging and differentiated performances. Their choice of instruments reflects their thoughtful approach to the repertoire and the wishes of the composer.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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