The Ensemble Battistin has devoted a series of discs to French
music of the 18th century under the title 'The Perfection of Music
- Masterpieces of the French Baroque'. Several of these have been
positively reviewed here, and this fifth and last volume is no
exception. It concentrates on music which shows the growing influence
of the Italian style. For a long time the French had resisted
the Italian taste, which had taken most of Europe by storm. It
was only the death of Jean-Baptiste Lully - himself of Italian
birth - and the waning influence of Louis XIV which made composers
feel free to incorporate Italian elements into their compositions.
The result was a style of composing which was called 'goûts réunis',
One of the first composers writing in this style was François Couperin.
It was a good decision not to include him in this programme
as his music is frequently performed and recorded. Instead
we get here a trio sonata by Jean-Féry Rebel, who was a famous
violinist and composed a set of sonatas for violin and b.c.,
which were highly appreciated. The trio sonata recorded here
was published in 1712 but written as early as 1695 which makes
Rebel one of the first in France to use the form which was
strongly associated with Italy, and especially with Arcangelo
Corelli. More conservative music-lovers remained sceptical
about the Italian influence as they were afraid it would undermine
"good taste". The booklet quotes the writer and
amateur musician Jean Laurent Le Cerf de la Viéville, who
expresses this feeling: "Rebel has indeed caught some
of the flair and the fire of the Italians, but has the taste
and sense to temper these by French wisdom and gentleness,
and he has abstained from those frightening and monstrous
chutes [falling appoggiaturas] that are the delight of the
More unashamedly Italian are the trio sonatas by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier,
one of the most prolific and best-selling composers of France
in the first half of the 18th century. Two sonatas from his
opus 50 are performed here. The most remarkable is the sonata
for cello and b.c., since the cello was a purely Italian instrument
which was only used after some Italians brought the instrument
to Paris, like Michele Mascitti. Boismortier asked advice
from the cellist Pierre Sansévin while composing his cello
sonatas, and as a result he really explores the instrument's
capabilities, like double stopping and virtuosic passage work.
The other trio sonata is notable in particular for its scoring
for violin and cello with basso continuo. Treating both instruments
on equal terms was foreshadowing the emancipation of the cello
from its subordinate position.
Sonatas for two instruments without basso continuo were also a novelty.
Boismortier wrote a number of them, and so did Leclair and
Guillemain. The latter had been in Italy to study with Giovanni
Battista Somis and was the first to compose this kind of sonatas.
The sonata recorded here consists of two contrasting movements,
the first of which is mostly contrapuntal whereas in the second
movement the two instruments play largely in parallel thirds.
The disc opens with the most traditional work on this disc. It was
written by Pierre-Danican Philidor, a member of a large family
of musicians and composers. They were closely associated with
music making at the royal court in Versailles, and that explains
Pierre-Danican's adherence to the traditional French style.
Despite its trio structure it is a very French piece, as its
name of 'suite' indicates. The inclusion of this piece offers
the listener the possibility to hear for himself how much
the character of instrumental music in France changed during
the first decades of the 18th century.
I have already indicated that this review would be positive. There
are many reasons for endorsing this disc. Historically it
is very interesting as it shows the stylistic change in France
in the early 18th century. The programme has been well put
together, offering a wide variety of styles and forms. The
choice of composers also deserves applause as most of them
appear infrequently on concert programmes and their music
is not widely available on disc.
The Ensemble Battistin is very fine and impresses with its impeccable
technique and admirable sense of style. These are lively and
engaging performances, characterised by a strongly gestural
style of playing, in which the rhythms are well exposed and
the expression of the slow movements is fully explored. It
is hardly possible to argue more strongly in favour of this
repertoire than the Ensemble Battistin does on this disc.
It is just a shame the playing time is so short.
Like the previous volumes in this series this disc has a booklet which
is exemplary in terms of the amount of information about the programme
as a whole and about every single composition. It also contains
biographies of the individual members of the ensemble and a specification
of the instruments used in this recording. This is how a booklet
Johan van Veen