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Antoine DARD (1715-1784)
Sonata, for bassoon and continuo, No.1 in C major (1759) [8:54]
Sonata, for bassoon and continuo, No.2 in G major (1759) [9:28]
La Coquette (1765) [1:24]
Sonata, for bassoon and continuo, No.3 in C minor (1759) [8:40]
Cher Tircis (1767) [2:29]
Sonata, for bassoon and continuo, No.4, in F major (1759) [8:06]
Sonata, for bassoon and continuo, No.5, in D minor (1759) [10:07]
La Coquette (1767) [1:51]
Sonata, for bassoon and continuo, No.6, in A minor (1759) [10:02]
Rends-moi ton cœur [2:07]
Ricardo Rapoport (bassoon); Pascal Dubreuil (harpsichord); Karine Sérafin (soprano); François Nicolet (transverse flute)
rec. August 2006, Chapel of the Conservatoire National de Région, Rennes, France
RAMÉE RAM 0702 [62:15]

Here’s an interesting discovery, albeit one of relatively minor proportions. I think it is safe to say that Antoine Dard is a name unknown to all but specialists learned in the music of eighteenth century France. He has no entry in Grove. Nor, indeed, does his publication of 1759 Six Sonates pour le basson ou violencel avec la Basse Continuë get even a mention in Grove’s survey of the early repertoire for the bassoon.

Given his relative obscurity, some biographical information on Dard – scant as it is – is perhaps in order here. I am indebted to the booklet notes by Youri Carbonier for such facts and suppositions as are summarised in what follows.

Dard was born in the village of Chapaize in Burgundy. Perhaps – there is no documentary evidence – he received his musical training at the cathedral in Mâcon or in Dijon. We do know, at least, that he got married in 1734. by the end of the 1750s he was in Paris – though how long previously he had made his way to the capital is unknown. In 1760 he was appointed as 5th bassoon in the orchestra of the Royal academy of music. Fairly quickly he rose to become section leader. He was soon one of the musiciens du Roi de Paris. In 1763 he bought the position of Grand hautbois de la Chambre et Écuries de Roi. By the end of the 1770s his name disappears from the list of those performing at court and opera house.

Little of Dard’s work as a composer survives: a few vocal compositions, some sonatas for flute and these sonatas for bassoon. On their publication in 1759 they carried a prefatory note which stated, amongst other things, that the volume had been judged ("by several farsighted persons") to be "indispensable, or at least very useful, to those who would acquire a perfect knowledge of the Bassoon, the only instrument for which, at present, no other composer has written". It wasn’t, of course, true that no one else had written for the bassoon: some thirty-seven concertos by Vivaldi come to mind; Giovanni Antonio Bertoli had published sonatas for the instrument as long ago as 1645; Telemann’s Sonata in F minor appeared in 1728; even in England, Johann Ernst Galliard had published a set of six bassoon sonatas in 1733; in France Boismortier had published duets for two bassoons in the 1720s; and these were by no means the only works written for the instrument. Still, even if they weren’t as ground-breaking as these "farsighted persons" seemed to think (or as Dard thought it sensible to pretend?), the sonatas are of considerable interest.

They are interesting for several reasons. The printed version includes written-out ornamentation and articulation marks for each note; Dard’s prefatory note tells the possible purchaser that "these sonatas have been supplied with fingerings and phrasing" and assures the reader that "nothing has been committed to paper without first having been played many times on the instrument". Though Dard’s title page may declare that these are sonatas for bassoon or cello, they seem very much to have been conceived in terms of Dard’s own instrument. Dard makes more extensive use of the instrument’s upper register than was at all common in the period, giving a distinctive quality to his work. Strikingly, the slow movements are through-composed, making no use of repeats.

The writing for the bassoon is often decidedly lyrical and there is much to enjoy here. All save the first sonata are in four movements (the first having three). There is little here of what the English poet Lemuel Abbott, writing in 1765, called "the grumbling grave Bassoon". Dard’s writing – and the playing of Ricardo Rapoport and Pascal Dubreuil – are far too galant for adjectives like "grave" and "grumbling" to be at all apt. The gavottes in Sonata 4 and the allegro gratiozo in Sonata 2 make the instrument dance without the slightest hint of excessive or inappropriate gravity. Of a character in one of the novels of Tobias Smollett (an approximate contemporary of Dard) it is said that "his voice resembled the sound of a bassoon, or the aggregate hum of a whole bee-hive". There is nothing of the bee-hive to be heard here; Rapoport’s tone is beautifully clear, his phrasing utterly precise, without mere pedantry. The decision to use only a harpsichord for the continuo proves successful. Rapoport explains that it allows "for more freedom and fantasy in interpretation, as well as transparency" and the result justifies his claims. Rapoport’s instrument, by the way, is a copy by Oliver Cottet of a bassoon by Prudent of around 1760 – just right for the music. Dard’s prefatory note, to return to it for a last time, speaks of the desirability of performers bringing to the works "the necessary lightness and feeling". Rapoport and Dubreuil very definitely do so.

The six sonatas are interleaved, as it were, with four short songs by Dard, pleasantly sung by Karine Sérafin, accompanied by Dubreuil (who plays an attractive sounding copy, by Titus Crijnen of a 1624 instrument by H. Ruckers II) and – on some tracks – by the flute of François Nicolet. No very great claims need be made for the songs – they are very much of a muchness with many other songs of their time and place – but they are attractive trifles and add a pleasing variety of sonority to a very interesting CD.

Glyn Pursglove


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