Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Bodin De BOISMORTIER (1689-1755)
Suites 1-4 for solo harpsichord (pièces de clavecin);
Suites 4, 5 and 6 (for flute traversière avec la basse)

Anne Savignat, Flute;
Beatrice Martin, Harpsichord;
Christine Plubeau, Viola da gamba
Recorded at the church of Saint-Hippolyte, August 1998
NAXOS 8.554457
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I telephoned a friend who describes himself as "really a baroque man" he is also a professional flautist and teacher of flute and recorder and asked him what he made of Boismortier. He has played a considerable amount and has some rare scores. "Oh", he said " he was a light-hearted but very skilful composer for the flute" and for many that just about sums him up. Jean-Benjamin de La Borde, writing 25 years after the composer's death, is quoted in the booklet notes with the following doggerel:-

"Happy is he Boismortier, whose fertile quill
Each month, without pain, conceives a new air at will"

I well remember once complaining about a composer friend who composed pages of music whilst in the bath or eating, my patient listener remarked "and what is wrong with finding composing easy?" Perhaps it was Britten's oft-quoted remark that composing was 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration that played on my mind. It is a clever thing to say and one knows what he means, but for some composers it is simply not always true and Boismortier was one. Now that does not mean that he can only be frivolous. On a few occasions on this disc I was struggling to tell the difference between him and his exact contemporary Rameau. He shares with Rameau, and indeed the great Couperin, who was over 20 years older, the pleasure of naming pieces in an extraordinary way: L'Indeterminée (the undecided) in the 4th suite for harpsichord. La Frénétique, which follows it, is a fast and thrusting piece, which, to my ears, sounds as if it knows exactly where it is going. I can't make out the significance of La Brunette ( yes … the brunette) a set of variations which ends the suite, unless it is to some delicious court beauty who possibly had a propensity for dancing. And what are we to make of La Marguillère? (the churchwarden). The portentous double-dotted rhythms, I fear, say it all. Some pieces are deep and thoughtful for example La Valétudinaire in the 1st suite in a melancholy C minor.

The suites for transverse flute are elegant and often refined. They do not have odd names and are more conventional. A prelude of delicate ornamentation begins each and is followed by a set of dances: Air, Rondeau, Musette, Gigue etc. One curiosity is that each suite is described as being 'avec la basse' but the 4th suite is played only by solo flute; not that it doesn't work, as such. In fact one was reminded that Boismortier did write music for solo flute, (as did the great Jan van Eyck 1590-1657) but it seems that some one should have mentioned it on the CD itself, a star is indicated at the back to show that Miss Plubeau on the gamba is actually performing.

As for Boismortier's life, I wouldn't want to spoil a good story by letting on too much, but I will quote the back of the CD "Boismortier became the first composer whose income totally depended upon his ability to provide a constant flow of new works. He had no patrons, few of his scores were commissioned, and in his mature life he never appeared as an instrumental musician. Such was his popularity as a composer that he became a wealthy person." Yes, a wealthy free-lance composer, it is worth pondering and might account for the jealousy that he encountered throughout his life.

Beatrice Martin has studied with Kenneth Gilbert, a great Rameau performer, and Christophe Rousset who is a leading young harpsichordist, but it is excellent that she has discovered music not played by either of her teachers. Anne Savignat has made a particular study of the baroque flute and plays with various early music ensembles. Christine Plubeau studied the gamba with Wieland Kuijken and has made several critically acclaimed recordings.

Naxos have, for some years, given us, without fuss or a blaze of trumpets, an excellent and worthwhile flow of French baroque chamber music, by young and, in many cases, little known continental and American musicians. Indeed a group called American Baroque recorded for Naxos in 1995 Boismortier's 6 Flute Sonatas with the extraordinary high Opus number of 91 appended to them. As in this release, the players show a sure and technically sound skill but also a perfect balance of mind and heart, which is a prerequisite of an ideal performance of this often elusive music.

Gary Higginson

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