Denner is a famous name in the early music world. The Denners are a dynasty of makers of woodwind instruments, especially instruments in the French style. In the first half of the 18th century they were the dominant builders of such instruments in Germany. It’s an appropriate name for a group of musicians in which woodwind instruments - recorder, oboe and bassoon - predominate. Ironically only Mark Baigent plays an instrument which is a copy of an oboe by Denner, made around 1715. Although the Denners also made recorders, Rebecca Prosser plays copies of instruments by Bressan and Terton. Peter Bressan was a French maker who for many years lived in England. Engelbert Terton was from the Netherlands and mainly worked in Amsterdam. The bassoon which Nathaniel Harrison plays is a copy of an instrument by the Scherer family, another dynasty of German manufacturers. Their instruments were held in high esteem.
This disc is the first from The Denner Ensemble which was founded in 2001. The programme is put together from music by French and German composers who were influenced by the French style. Traces of the Italian style are also discernible, even in the music by French composers. That is certainly the case with Jean-Féry Rebel who lived at a time when most French composers advocated the mixture of Italian and French elements, the so-called goûts-réunis
. His suite Les caractères de la danse
is remarkable: a sequence of 14 short pieces, mostly dances which follow each other without interruption. It was originally written for the famous dancer Mlle Prévost and the first specimen of dance music which was not part of a theatrical work. It is in fact written for an orchestra, and makes more impression if performed that way. What we get here is a pocket-sized version, as it were. It is nicely played, though, and gives a good opportunity to get acquainted with the various dances which played such an important role in French music. The sequence ends with a sonate
which is the most Italian part of this piece, and also the most brilliant.
Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the most Francophile composer of the German baroque. He composed many orchestral overtures which were modelled after the opera suites of Lully. In many other works he couldn't resist the attraction of the French style either. In his time he was considered the best composer of quartets. The Quartet in G
is a fine specimen of this genre. He was not the only quartet composer, though: the Sonata in B flat
by Fasch is also for three treble instruments and basso continuo. Notable is the third movement, called grave
, which is dominated by staccato episodes. The trio sonata was one of the most popular forms of chamber music in the early 18th century. Telemann wrote many such pieces. In the Trio sonata in g minor
another French element turns up: the second treble part was originally written for the treble viol, or the pardessus de viole
as the French called it. This part is allocated to the violin here.
Returning to French music, the programme opens with pieces from a collection of dances for a treble instrument and basso continuo by Anne Danican Philidor, a member of a dynasty of woodwind players and composers who were prominent at Court. The five selected dances are grouped as a suite. Although they are scored for one instrument and bc, we hear mostly two playing colla parte
. This was common practice in France: in the opera orchestra the oboes often played alongside the violins, adding extra colour to the upper parts. Michel Richard de Lalande composed a large corpus of music to be played during the meals of the King (les soupers du roy
). Six pieces have been selected; unfortunately it is not specified from which suites they are taken. Like the suite of Rebel these pieces were intended for an orchestral scoring. This reflected the splendour of Louis XIV's reign.
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was one of the first composers in history who were self-employed: he was never at the service of a court or a church. He composed large quantities of music in various scorings. This brought him much criticism, but he didn't care: "I make money", was his simple reply. The Sonata in g minor
is another quartet for various instruments: Boismortier gives the interpreters almost unlimited freedom to choose the instruments. The fast movements show the influence of the Italian style.
The disc ends with a short and exciting piece by Lully from his opera Cadmus et Hermione
. The choice of a chaconne is highly appropriate as it was one of the most popular forms in French music. No opera could do without it and it was also included in many suites for harpsichord or instrumental ensemble. This disc couldn't have had a better ending.
As I have indicated some pieces which were chosen for this disc were scored for orchestra. I find them more satisfying in the original scoring, but that doesn't mean they can't be played in a chamber music line-up. I am very pleased and impressed by this debut of The Denner Ensemble. Their sound is crisp and clear and they play with great enthusiasm and much imagination. The ensemble is perfect; the blending of the instruments playing colla parte
in Philidor is immaculate. According to the booklet their concerts have found much appreciation, and I fully understand that. This disc is produced by the ensemble; so far it is not available from sites like Classics Online or MDT. It is to be hoped that it will be available soon, but for the time being one may order the disc from the ensemble
. It is certainly worth the effort, and I hope to hear more from them soon. One wish for the next production: the documentation could be better. The original scoring should be mentioned, and so should opus and catalogue numbers: Boismortier, Telemann, Fasch.
Johan van Veen