Possibly, like me, the first time you may ever have met the
name of Forqueray was when you first discovered the ‘Pièces
de Clavecin en concerts’ by Rameau. In those chamber works,
enlargements of solo harpsichord pieces, Rameau invariably pays
tribute to some of his most interesting contemporaries. Amongst
them were names which I thought I would never get to know further
including ‘La Marais’ (Marin Marais), ‘La Laborde’ who features
in the opening piece of Forqueray’s first Suite and ‘La Forqueray’
found in Rameau’s Fifth Suite, a Fugue in D minor composed apparently
on the occasion of the wedding of Jean-Baptiste Forqueray. It’s
intriguing that the movement ‘La Forqueray’ in the first suite
here is also in D minor. It’s probably a character description
of his viol-playing virtuoso father. Little did I know, until
this CD emerged, that there were two Forquerays, father and
son and both are featured on this disc. This also indicates
how Brilliant Classics are imaginatively moving out from standard
repertoire and re-issues.
The booklet essay, fascinatingly compiled by Lucy Robinson and
entitled ‘A Case of Double Misattribution’ gives us some family
background, which is useful and explains the music. It seems
that in 1747 Jean-Baptiste had published pieces for viol composed
by “M. Forqueray le père’. It seems however that they may not
have been by him. The style, which is harmonically adventurous
does not quite fit. Scholars now believe these pieces had been
“thoroughly reworked” by the son. Jean-Baptiste tells us that
he did write the bass line, “adding fingering and adding three
pieces of his own”. Also the dedications are to the son’s contemporaries:
Rameau, Leclair and one Buisson his brother-in-law and his solicitor
In the same year he then brought out his own harpsichord transcriptions
of his father’s pieces which made excellent financial sense.
According to the notes Antoine appears to have been a bit of
a beast of a father, having his son incarcerated and then exiled
for a number of years for some apparently minor thieving activities.
It’s rather surprising then that his son took care to prepare
the music for ‘clavecin’ so meticulously and brilliantly. He
probably realized that many of these pieces are so fecund in
imagination, so full of life and so original and sometimes so
eccentric that by putting his own mark on them he wasn’t doing
himself any harm. Anyway, his father’s fame had been widespread.
He had been recognized as one of the greatest virtuosos whose
music is even more difficult and extraordinary than that of
the great Marais. In truth however Jean-Baptiste made very few
alterations to the viol originals and where changes have been
made it was not just to simplify or clarify but for purely musical
reasons. Three of the pieces are by him, including ‘La Du Vaucel’,
a rather pastoral piece to a man described as a “fermier généraux”.
I managed to secure a photocopy of the Fifth Suite in C minor;
the same published running order of pieces is retained in both
versions. I assume this is so in all the suites. Several things
immediately struck me. First, the clear fingerings and the figured
bass as mentioned. Then the fact that the viol music is written
on two staves: a bass and a C clef. Often the two move suddenly
to bass clefs obviously giving a low tessitura mirrored by Jean-Baptiste.
The suite begins with a serious homage to Rameau, returning
the compliment, possibly. The most curious movement is the one
reproduced in the booklet, ‘Le Leon’, which is notated in white
notes because of its 3/2 time signature or as it is in the original
2/3. There are also instructions, which I’m not sure Michael
Borgstede completely adheres to. They translate “In order to
play this piece in the way I intended it, one must observe the
placing of the notes; the upper part hardly ever coincides with
A standard form regularly found here and popular with French
composers of this period is the Rondo. This is fine where the
opening ‘A’ is arresting, as in ‘La Montiginio’ in Suite Five
but on occasions as in ‘La Sainscy’ in the first suite, it can
be a little irritating and tedious.
Michael Borgstede’s playing is technically superb and he is
a fine and experienced performer both as a soloist and as a
member of the ensemble ‘Musica ad Rhenum’, a prolific recording
group founded twenty years ago. Even so, I am not sure that
he quite captures the composer’s intention. In the first suite
for example does he really play La Clement ‘Noble et
détaché’ or Le Carillon de Passy ‘Légérement sans vitesse’
as marked by the composers?
In all there are thirty-two pieces and the quality is not always
consistent. Most are intriguing and often incredibly exciting.
Three which stand out for me are, for sheer joy of living, ‘La
Eynaud’ in the third suite and in the fifth ‘La Sylva’ which
is melancholy and solemn in an alla breve time signature
sensitively handled by Borgstede. The last piece of all, another
Rondo ‘Jupiter’ is pure harpsichord music, using the full range
of the instrument in a dramatic and spectacular way.
I’m not mad keen on the recording … or is it possibly the instrument.
It is a copy of a double manual French harpsichord after Pascal
Taskin (1723-1793). In so many pieces, which are pitched constantly
in the lower section of the instrument even with octaves in
the left hand, there is sometimes a lack of sharpness, which
obscures the harmony. I have heard the tracks not only on my
own stereo, but also in the car and on a friend’s fine equipment.
I retain the same view although the bass does need to be turned
down more than usual.
Even so this is a fine set. The famous names of harpsichord
composers have some competition here. These are pieces to which
I will certainly return.