In their contributions to the booklet which
accompanies this CD both the annotator Thomas Jakobi and the soloist
Sung-Yeon Lee express some puzzlement as to the significance of
the overall title under which this set of six sonatas for cello
and continuo by Michel Corrette was published. Jakobi writes that
“nothing is known about the significance of the title, nor do
the sonatas themselves, with their colorful character, offer any
clues”. Sung-Yeon Lee comments that “there is unfortunately no
indication of why Michel Corrette entitled his collection of cello
sonatas ‘The delights of Solitude’. On the whole, the work is
more cheerful and exuberant than lonely”. I think the puzzlement
can be resolved – and one’s pleasure in this interesting music
enhanced – if one places the work in its cultural context.
The cello was, in many circles, viewed as the heir to the musical role previously played by the viola da gamba and that earlier instrument had frequently been thought of, and deployed as, an instrument particularly associated with the introspective and the solitary. But, more than this, we need to clarify quite what kind of values the French baroque associated with the idea of ‘solitude’. Important and influential poems of the period were devoted to the subject, such as ‘La Solitude’ by Théophile de Viau (1590-1626) and ‘La Solitude à Alcidon’ by Marc-Antoine Saint-Amant (1594-1661), poems which continued to be read and admired in the eighteenth century, especially as changes of sensibility began to anticipate romanticism. (Passages from Saint-Amant’s poem, in a translation by Katherine Philips, will be familiar to many, since they form the text of Purcell’s song ‘O Solitude’). For a writer such as Saint-Amant solitude was not simply a matter of quiet and repose or even, necessarily, of melancholy. Thus his poem speaks not only of (I am quoting from Philips’ translation) places where “water-fowl repose enjoy” but also of “ruin’d castle-walls” which evidence “the utmost rage and spight / Of Time’s worst insurrection”; the poem’s imagery embraces witches and “wanton devils”, who make “malicious sport”; it contemplates “the malicious fowler’s snare” and “the raven with his dismal cries”, as well as the remains of a disappointed lover who killed himself, and the fate of the woman who scorned him, punished by a Heaven which
Rewarded soon her cruelty
With a deserv’d and mighty pain:
About this squalid heap of bones,
Her wand’ring and condemned shade,
Laments in long and piercing groans
The destiny her rigour made,
And the more to augment her right,
Her crime is ever in her sight.
In short, the solitude of the French baroque is the locus for a considerable range of emotions and attitudes, its governing repose and happiness incorporating a distant observation and recognition of violence, pain and war. We need not, then, be surprised that for Corrette the ‘delights of solitude’ should include music which imitates the noises of battle or of hunting, which is sometimes placid and content and sometimes more troubled and uneasy.
These are fine, poetic sonatas, often strikingly beautiful. Bassorum Vox play the music very well and with interpretative intelligence. The group avails itself of a variety of instrumental combinations, responding to the nature of each sonata and also ensuring an attractive and engaging variation of instrumental colours for the listener. Thus Sonata VI is played by the full complement of solo cello and a continuo section made up of a second cello, theorbo, baroque guitar and harpsichord, while Sonata II is played by solo cello accompanied only by theorbo and harpsichord and Sonata I by the two cellos and harpsichord.
Throughout Seung-Yeon Lee’s playing is full of elegance and an apt emotionalism, articulating the intrinsic poetry of this music and she is very well supported by her colleagues. This is music which grows on the listener with repeated hearings, slowly revealing its weight and complexity as well as its surface elegance. Seung-Yeon Lee plays a cello of 1790, probably made by Ferdinand Klotz, and Se-Hee Kim also plays an eighteenth century instrument made by Nicolas Augustin Chappuy; Fernado Reyes Ferrón and Mami Kurada play modern copies of early instruments and the resulting tonal blend is very persuasive. The recorded sound is perhaps just a little on the resonant side and there are moments when the solo cello looms a little too prominently out of the recorded balance. But these are the most minor of infelicities, and do nothing to spoil one’s pleasure in an assured and sensitive interpretation of some fine music.