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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Pierre HUGARD (1725-1761)
La Toilette: Music for the Pardessus de viole: Suites 1, 2, 3 and 4
Nicholas G. LENDORMY (fl. c.1760)

Seconde livre de pieces pour le Pardessus de Viole
Hamburger Ratsmusik; Simon Eckert – Pardessus de viole; Hermann Hickethier viola da gamba; Ulrich Wedemeier, theorbo and baroque guitar; Karl Ernest Went, harpsichord, organ
Recorded at St.Martin-kirche, Osterhever January 2002 and March 2002
THOROFON CTH 2460 [72.48]

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This CD uniquely features music for a curious hybrid of an instrument called the ‘Pardessus de viole’. This flourished briefly in the mid 18th Century in the hands of mainly female performers. The music written for it is little known, by composers who are unknown, but how apt that a fine female performer is making it her duty to dig it out, edit it and to bring it all to out attention.

I must say that I am very glad to see a photograph of the instrument in the booklet and not only because it is being played by the lovely Simone Eckert. It is a six string (sometimes five or even seven string) violin which is played with a bow and held between the knees, like I suppose a mini cello. The booklet also contains a reproduction of an 18th Century painting with the gorgeously clad young women looking out at us whilst playing and her somewhat lecherous looking teacher gazing across at her.

The first music for this instrument dates from about 1724. Today there is evidence of about 250 pieces written for it although not all have yet been uncovered. It is tuned not unlike a guitar, in fourths with an internal third. At first, say around 1690, it was used for repertoire written for the flute. By 1730 it was the chosen instrument of the upper classes for whom at this stage the violin rather vulgarly was associated with dance music. But soon all changed.

The greatest exponent of the instrument at the time was one Madame Levi. By all accounts she was feted for her musicianship in the 1740s and 1750s all across France. She bowed "even in the highest registers, without edginess". She enchanted the Parisian ‘Concert Spirituel’ throughout 1745. "This is where the violin began its ascendancy over the viola da gamba in France" to quote the excellent and extensive notes by Simone Eckert herself.

And how beautifully she plays and with such ease and grace of phrasing which the aforementioned Madame Levi might have admired.

I have to say at this point that the music is mostly mediocre but most attractive and often very tuneful, following the format and conventions of the time to a T. The composers are something of a mystery. The booklet briefly comments that we know nothing about Hugard but that his music was published in the 1760s and 1770s, i.e. after his death. There is no comment whatsoever about Nicholas Lendormy whose music is rather short-winded and of less interest.

The use of continuo is quite interesting in these interpretations. Taking Hugard’s 3rd suite: the opening ‘Sarabanda’, the following ‘Le Coureur’ and first gavotte use harpsichord and gamba but for contrast the 2nd gavotte has baroque guitar or theorbo. Later, the first Minuet has just gamba accompaniment but the second minuet uses the harpsichord and so on. Different colours are applied and never a moment passes when the listener has to constantly ‘enjoy’ one sonority.

Two ‘Pardessus de viole’ are used. The one for the Hugard suites was made in 1748 and is of six strings. The one used for the Lendormy is dated 1745 and is five string for a slightly more limited range. For the latter the organ continuo is used with theorbo. All performances are elegant, entirely in character and utterly delightful.

The recording is very good and entirely realistic. A very pleasurable CD

Gary Higginson



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