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Joseph Bodin DE BOISMORTIER (1689 - 1755): "Winds in Versailles"

I fiori musicali

rec: May 14, 2014 & July 16, 2016, Padua, Centro Artistico Musicale Padovano (Sala Carmeli)
Urania Records - LDV 14026 (© 2016) (51'56")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Sonata in D, op. 26,1cd; Sonata in G, op. 37,1bcd; Sonata in e minor, op. 37,2acd; Sonata in D, op. 37,3bcd; Sonata in g minor, op. 37,4acd; Sonata in a minor, op. 37,5bcd; Suite in e minor, op. 35,1bcd; Suite in e minor, op. 59,3d

Sources: 5 Sonates pour le violoncelle, viole, ou basson, avec la basse chifree; suivies d'un concerto pour l'un ou l'autre des Instruments, op. 26, 1729; Six Suites de Pièces pour une flute traversiere seule, avec la basse, op. 35, 1731; 5 sonates en trio, suivies d'un concerto à 5, op. 37, 1732; Quatre suites de pièces de clavecin, op. 59, 1736

Maria Giovanna Fiorentino, recordera, transverse fluteb; Paolo Tognon, bassoonc; Maria Luisa Baldassari, harpsichordd

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was one of the most productive and versatile composers. He published collections of music for almost any kind of instrument in vogue in his time. He was also a typical exponent of the Enlightenment as he wrote some treatises on playing the flute and the descant viol for the growing number of amateurs who needed instructions as to how to play their instruments. Among the latter the transverse flute was particularly popular, although the recorder still held its ground.

In order to increase sales composers often left the choice of instruments to the performers. The core of the programme which was recorded by the Italian ensemble I fiori musicali, are the five sonatas op. 37 which were printed in 1732. It was common at the time to publish collections of six pieces; in this case the sixth is a concerto in five parts. The scoring of the sonatas is not specified; the title page says sonates en trio pour un dessus et deux basses. One of the bass parts is the basso continuo; the other is for a low melody instrument. In the time of Boismortier the Italian style became increasingly popular, and because of that the cello is probably the most logical choice, although the viola da gamba is also a possibility, as it was still common in the 1730s. Another option is the bassoon which was often indicated as an alternative to a string bass. In 1759 Antoine Dard published a set of six sonatas for bassoon or cello as his op. 2. Therefore the choice of the bassoon in this recording is fully legitimate, and a particular good match for either the recorder or the transverse flute, which play the treble part.

All the sonatas are in three movements, most of them are rather short; movements of more than two minutes are the exception. This is music in the then common galant idiom, but that does not mean that these are trifles. Especially the bass part is sometimes quite challenging, and now and then there are twists and turns, for instance in the closing allegro from the Sonata No. 3 in D and in the adagio from the Sonata No. 5 in a minor. The latter ends with a gavotta which includes some sudden pauses.

The Op. 26 is comparable with the Op. 37 in that it includes again five sonatas followed by a concerto. The solo parts are for a bass instrument: the title page specifically mentions the cello, the viola da gamba and the bassoon as alternatives. These sonatas are even more challenging for the player of the solo part. From this set we hear the Sonata No. 1 in D, and especially the closing allegro is a literally breathtaking piece.

The track-list includes a Suite I, Op. 25, but this is incorrect. In fact it is the Suite No. 1 in e minor from the Six Suites de Pièces pour une flute traversiere seule, avec la basse, op. 35. It comprises four dances, with two character pieces in the centre: the rondeau 'Les Charites' and 'L'Emervillée'. The remaining item is the Suite III in e minor from the Quatre suites de pièces de clavecin, op. 59, Boismortier's only collection of pieces for the harpsichord. It is telling that it includes no dances, but only character pieces. Moreover, three of the five movements have the addition en rondeau, referring to one of the most fasionable forms of the time.

This suite is well played by Maria Luisa Baldassari; I like the sound of the harpsichord here better than that of the instrument she uses in the basso continuo in the sonatas. Paolo Tognon is the star of this disc. His playing is quite impressive and confirms my impressions from previous recordings. I am less enthusiastic about Maria Giovanna Fiorentino. She does well on the transverse flute, but on the recorder she sometimes produces a not very pleasant sound. Now and then the ensemble also is less than perfect. Towards the end of the rondeau 'Les Charites' from the Suite in e minor Fiorentino adds a little too much ornamentation and as a result she desynchronizes with the bassoon and the harpsichord.

As far as I know this is the only complete recording of the sonatas from op. 37 in the catalogue. From that angle this is an important release, even though the performances are not entirely satisfying.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

I fiori musicali

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