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Louis-Antoine DORNEL (1680-1765)
Six Suittes en Trio (1709)
Suite in e minor, op. 1,3 [12:31]
Suite in A, op. 1,2 [11:04]
Suite in D, op. 1,4 [11:16]
Suite in a minor, op. 1,1 [11:38]
Suite in G, op. 1,5 [10:23]
Suite in e minor, op. 1,6 [11:46]
Musica Barocca (Lisette da Silva, María Martínez (voice flutes), Nicholas Stringfellow (viola da gamba), Mauricio Buraglia (theorbo), Juan Estévez (harpsichord))
rec. May 2001, Forde Abbey, Dorset, UK. DDD
NAXOS 8.570826 [69:06] 
Experience Classicsonline

In a recent interview the flautist Jed Wentz, director of the ensemble Musica ad Rhenum, said that of all baroque music he loves French music most, but unfortunately it doesn't sell very well. Some record companies and ensembles seem to think differently: over the last year or so quite a number of discs with instrumental music of the French baroque have crossed my path. If there isn’t a market for this kind of repertoire surely it would not be so frequently recorded. I also note with satisfaction that some musicians and ensembles avoid the standard repertoire, like Marais and François Couperin, and turn their attention to the lesser-known composers of the late 17th and first half of the 18th century. Louis-Antoine Dornel is certainly no unknown quantity in our time, but he definitely belongs to the more obscure echelons of French composers of the baroque era.

Dornel was educated as an organist and held several positions in this capacity in Paris. But very little else is known about his life and career. Apparently we now know when he died: according to the data on this disc it was in 1765, whereas the New Grove only says "after 1756". Unfortunately it is not just his life we don't know very much about. Our knowledge of his oeuvre is also limited. It is known that he wrote several motets which were greatly appreciated and were also performed at the 'Concert Spirituel', but as all these works have been lost we know nothing about them. 

What has been left is a handful of organ pieces, suites for the harpsichord, some collections of chamber music, two chamber cantatas, a divertissement and some airs. The suites recorded by Musica Barocca were his first collection which was published in 1709. Its title is 'Livre de simphonies', a 'simphonie' being the general term for a piece of music. The collection also contained a single 'quatuor', a sonata for three treble instruments and bc which hasn't been recorded here for reasons of space. The six suites were written for two treble instruments and bc. Dornel was composing in a time which saw the influence of the Italian style continually growing, and these suites unmistakably reflect the influence of Arcangelo Corelli and his trio sonatas. 

A characteristic feature of Dornel's music, also apparent in these suites, is his sense for polyphony. The suggestion that this is due to his education as an organist seems very plausible. The suites regularly move away from the traditional pattern of allemande-courante-sarabande-gigue - as so often is the case in French suites of the late baroque. Three of the suites open with a (slow) prélude, the other three with an overture in two sections (slow - fast). The courante is completely absent, instead we find movements like menuet, fantaisie, rondeau or ritournelle. A collection like this can't do without a chaconne (three) or a passacaille (one). And very few composers failed to write a 'plainte', as we find here in the Suite No. 5. 

Although Dornel isn't one of the best-known composers of the French baroque, he isn't that badly represented on disc. The Dutch flautist Wilbert Hazelzet devoted a whole disc to his chamber music (Glossa) and Hugo Reyne gave a good overview of his oeuvre with his ensemble La Simphonie de Marais (Tempéraments). The latter disc includes some organ pieces and interestingly also contains the quatuor Musica Barocca omitted. More attention has been given to Dornel's opus 2, so this recording of the six suites from opus 1 is very welcome. 

As far as the interpretation is concerned I am a little in two minds. On the one hand: the playing is very good and I really enjoyed the performances. The slow movements are played with great sensitivity, the fast movements with verve - I can imagine some people find it difficult to keep their feet still while listening to the faster movements. There is also a good differentiation between good and bad notes - something I often miss in recordings of baroque music. 

But: I am a little puzzled by the choice of instruments. True, Dornel has left it to the performers as to which instruments his music should be played on. In the title flutes, violins and oboes are mentioned, but that in itself is no argument against playing these suites on recorders, or, as here, voice flutes (a type of recorder with d’ as its lowest note, a tone and a half lower than its relative, the treble recorder in F). But after 1700 the recorder was clearly in decline and overshadowed by the transverse flute. Therefore the choice of voice flutes is not very logical, in particular as the suites have to be transposed - a fact the programme notes fail to mention. And the sound of the voice flute - at least in this recording - needs a bit of time to get used to: there are some sharp edges in its sound, especially when the full dynamic range is exploited. I would also have liked the interpretation to be a bit more adventurous, in particular in regard to ornamentation. The basso continuo section could have shown more presence too. The fact that the two treble parts are treated on equal terms isn't always reflected by the recording: in particular in the opening Suite in e minor the first voice flute overshadows the second. 

This opus 1 is recorded here for the first time and the overall quality of the playing of the ensemble is admirable. At the same time I hope we shall see a recording in the original keys with a more appropriate scoring, and, if possible, a bit more adventure and freedom in the interpretation.

Johan van Veen


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