These two discs are the second and third in a series of five,
devoted to French music from the period of about 1690 to 1750.
The titles 'The Concert Français' and 'The Concert Spirituel'
refer to two concert series, which took place from 1725 in the
Tuileries Palace in Paris. The building of this palace had started
in 1559 at the request of Catherine de Medici, widow of King Henri
II, but it was only completed during the reign of Louis XIV. But
he didn't want to live in Paris, nor did Philip II, Duke of Orléans,
who acted as Regent for Louis XV during his minority. Therefore
the Tuileries Palace was never really used as a palace, and instead
was rented out as a place for music and theatre performances.
It is here that Anne Danican Philidor founded the Concert Spirituel
in 1725 and two years later the Concert Français. The former series
lasted until the French Revolution in 1789, but the latter only
existed for six years. In both series instrumental music was performed,
but the difference was that vocal music in the Concert Spirituel
was strictly religious, in the Concert Français first and foremost
secular, although every concert ended with a sacred work. These
two discs aim to give an impression of what concerts in these
two series could be like.
first disc, devoted to the Concert Français, opens with two
so-called 'airs de cour', songs for solo voice with basso continuo,
by Michel Lambert, which appeared in a collection published
in 1689, long before the Concert Français started. I'm not sure
if Lambert's airs were still performed in the next century.
But, as the programme notes say, airs like these were performed
at the Concert Français. As this disc sets out to show the growing
influence of the Italian style in French music it makes sense
to include them in the programme. They are examples of the pure
French style before the Italian style started to make any impact.
Sara Macliver has a beautiful voice, but her performance is
a bit bland, and her ornamentation is not really convincing.
Some ornaments are nothing more than passing notes, but they
tend to get too much emphasis.
Danican Philidor was a niece of Anne Danican, the founder of
the Concert Français. They were members of a large family of
musicians who were mainly active as players of wind instruments.
Pierre Danican's suite played here comes from a set of twelve
suites for two treble instruments, six of which with, and six
without, basso continuo. Here the fifth suite with basso continuo
is played on transverse flute and violin, one of the options
for performing music like this, as the composer did not specify
the instruments he had in mind. It contains five movements:
the first is an overture, much like the French opera overture,
and ends with a chaconne, also frequently appearing in French
operas at the end of an act. In the middle is a movement with
the title 'Les Echos', in which phrases by the treble instruments
are repeated piano. This is followed by an energetic pair of
bourrées. This suite is beautifully played and well articulated,
and 'Les Echos' is very elegant, but the bourrées and some passages
in the other movements could be played with a little more energy
remaining two items show the two kinds of vocal music performed
at the Concert Français. In particular we hear the influence
of the Italian style. In the case of Jean-Baptiste Stuck, also
known as 'Battistin', that is no surprise: he was Italian, although
of German origin, and Philip II, Duke of Orléans, who was a
great lover of Italian music, had appointed him as cellist of
his chapel. He started to write chamber cantatas in which he
tried to mix elements of the French and the Italian style. Among
the latter are the depiction of elements of the text in the
music and contrasts in tempo. His cantata 'Les Bains de Toméry'
is rather descriptive than dramatic. In the first aria the phrase
"Flow, flow, fleeting waters, and you, birds, leave the
woods" is eloquently illustrated in the music. This aria
also shows a strong contrast in tempo between the first and
the second section.
Fiebig has a nice voice, and she sings the cantata with quite
a lot of expression. But I am not impressed by her diction:
sometimes it is difficult to understand what she sings, and
her pronunciation of French is rather suspect. In addition I
find it disappointing that modern pronunciation of French is
Bernier studied in Italy, and after returning to France he held
several positions and entered the Chapelle Royale in 1723. Today
he is practically unknown, and if his music is performed it
is mostly his secular cantatas. This motet shows his qualities
as a composer of religious music. It is a motet for Holy Communion,
the heart of the Roman Catholic liturgy, and Bernier has set
the text with Italian passion in a sequence of solos - some
of which in the form of a recitative - and duets. In particular
the duets are very moving, partly due to the harmony between
the two vocal parts. The two sopranos have quite different voices,
but blend pretty well. Again the pronunciation of the text is
disappointing: one would hope it has sunk in right now, that
in French music of the baroque era the Italian pronunciation
of Latin is simply wrong. But that seems not to be the case,
may come as a surprise to see that the music presented under
the title 'The Concert Spirituel' is mainly instrumental. But
the name of this concert series derived mainly from the fact
that no secular vocal music was performed, and that the concerts
took place on Sundays and religious feasts. Over the years instrumental
music began to dominate the programmes. Later in the 18th century
symphonies by Haydn were played and Mozart composed his 'Paris'
symphony for the Concert Spirituel.
programme is interesting because of the quality of the music
and the fact that most of the pieces are barely known. That
is certainly the case with the opening item, a sonata by Jean-Jacques-Baptiste
Anet. Few people will ever have heard this name, but he was
one of the most accomplished virtuoso violinists in the early
18th century. Virtuosity was not a quality which was in great
demand in France, as the French preferred expression. Anet himself
shared this view, and his sonata certainly delivers expression,
in particular in the opening adagio, but in the remaining four
movements there is quite a lot of virtuosity nevertheless. Interestingly
he had been a pupil of Corelli, who held him in great esteem.
And this sonata is unmistakably influenced by the style of his
teacher. Sophie Gent and Stewart Smith give a splendid account
of this fine sonata.
is far better known, but not always appreciated. He has the
reputation of being a voluminous writer of music, which for
many implies that the quality of his works must be suspect.
That is not the case with the sonata performed here. It is a
piece for two treble instruments without basso continuo. Boismortier
composed quite a lot of pieces without basso continuo, but often
one of the instruments acts as a kind of basso continuo anyway.
Here it is the violin which now and then provides a bass line,
supporting the transverse flute which takes the lead in the
proceedings. Kate Clark and Paul Wright bring the qualities
of this piece convincingly to the fore.
Buffardin was a virtuoso flautist who from 1715 to 1749 played
in the court chapel in Dresden, at the time one of the most
famous ensembles of Europe. He was also active as a teacher,
and Johann Joachim Quantz was one of his pupils. It is possible
Johann Sebastian Bach wrote some of his flute parts for Buffardin.
It is not known how many works Buffardin composed: only two
have been preserved, one of which is the concerto played here.
It is a very beautiful piece, and makes one regret that we don't
have many more compositions by him. The concerto is given an
engaging performance by the whole ensemble, with Kate Clark
as an excellent soloist.
fourth piece is typical of the style of around the middle of
the 18th century. The subtitle of the collection of which it
is part sums it up pretty well: "conversations galantes
et amusantes" - gallant and entertaining conversations.
This was the music of the bourgeoisie which was becoming more
and more important as consumers and performers of instrumental
music. The performers play it accordingly: as a nice musical
conversation between friends.
if the Concert Spirituel was dominated by instrumental music,
it always ended with a sacred piece. Here it is a motet by Mouret,
whose music is graceful and melodious. That is also the case
here: this setting of Psalm 12 (13) is quite different from
the motet by Bernier on the first disc. The expression is more
in the melody than in the harmony. There is Italian influence
as well, in particular in the coloraturas on "exaltabitur"
(exalted). The instruments don't play a prominent role; they
mainly support the voice. Sara Macliver gives an outstanding
account of this motet, thanks to the nice timbre of her voice
and her excellent diction. Like the item on the first disc,
the Latin pronunciation is off the mark, but that's not her
discs present most interesting programmes of French music of
the early 18th century. As far as the first disc is concerned
it is in particular the two vocal items which make me recommend
it. The instrumental pieces on the second disc are generally
played with more panache than the suite on the first disc. All
in all there are fewer flaws on the second disc than on the
first. Despite the criticisms I recommend both discs as they
contain very fine music which is hardly known.
booklets are excellent: there is a general introduction to the
programme (largely the same for both discs), information about
every single piece with reference to the sources, and the lyrics
with an English translation. That is how booklets should be.
Johan van Veen