Les Grâces Françoises - Music of the French Baroque
Nicolas BERNIER (1665-1734)
Le Caffé [18:36]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Neuvième Concert 'Ritratto dell'amore' [13:34]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Pièces de viole, 3eme livre, 1711:
Jacques DUPHLY (1715-1789)
Pièces de clavecin, 3eme livre, 1756:
Les grâces [9:21]
La De Belombre [4:13]
Menuets I & II [4:07]
Michel Pignolet DE MONTÉCLAIR (1667-1737)
Ariane et Bachus [16:14]
Les Grâces (Jennifer Paulino (soprano), Annette Bauer (recorder), Rebekah
Ahrendt (viola da gamba), Jonathan Rhodes Lee (harpsichord))
rec. 3-5 June 2010, Hertz Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.
MSR CLASSICS MS 1396 [76:45]
Since the Middle Ages music has been one of the main occupations of the aristocracy.
In the first decades of the 18th century this occupation extended to other echelons
of society. Wealthy citizens liked to sing and play or to listen to music at
their homes or in social gatherings. In France two genres were particularly
popular, the sonata and the cantata. Their small scoring was excellently suited
to the intimate surroundings of the salons of Paris and other towns.
As a result large numbers of pieces in both genres were produced by the best
composers of the time. The scoring reflects the instruments which were particularly
loved, the transverse flute and the violin. The recorder still played a role,
but became increasingly marginal.
The present disc includes several specimens from these two genres. The performers
haven't made things easy for themselves by choosing from the best-known and
most frequently recorded. The gamba music of Marin Marais is present on many
discs. One wonders why someone with an interest in French music of this period
would want to hear just four pieces from a book which is easily available complete.
The performance by Rebekah Ahrendt is alright, but not very engaging.
The same has to be said of the Neuvième Concert from François
Couperin's Les Goûts-réünis which is played here on
the recorder. Strictly speaking there is no objection to the use of the recorder.
Couperin didn't specify the instruments to be used in his instrumental concerts.
Then again in his own writings he does not mention the recorder in this context.
These pieces were rather played on violin, viola da gamba, oboe and bassoon.
The transverse flute was also often used in compositions like this. The recorder
is not the most obvious choice, as it was increasingly marginalised, but also
because of its limited dynamic possibilities. The latter is one of the reasons
that this performance is rather subdued and lacks expression. Annette Bauer's
playing falls short in dynamic shades, and her interpretation is too restrained.
This is no Italian music - although clearly influenced by it - but that doesn't
mean a performance should be so bland as is the case here. Only recently I reviewed
a disc with the German recorder player Dorothee Oberlinger (http://www.musica-dei-donum.org/cd_reviews/dhm_88697735092.html)
who gives a quite different account of French music from the early 18th century.
This is indicative of the present disc as a whole. The three harpsichord pieces
by Jacques Duphly are quite extroverted, but that doesn't really come off in
Jonathan Rhodes Lee's performance. The tempi are slowish, and the articulation
should have been sharper, with stronger contrasts between musical figures.
The two cantatas are the most interesting part of the programme. It begins with
Le Caffé by Nicolas Bernier, which reflects the fashion of drinking
coffee which had emerged in the last quarter of the 17th century. One wonders
why Rebekah Ahrendt didn't choose Marais' saillie du Caffé, also
from the third book. Jennifer Paulino has what it takes to sing such cantatas,
but I would have liked her to use a little less vibrato, although it is not
too obtrusive. Her quite extroverted approach conflicts with the too restrained
playing of Annette Bauer. In this cantata the use of a recorder is more plausible
than in Ariane et Bachus by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair. It
is out of step with the first part which is quite dramatic, expressing the anger
of Ariane being left by Theseus. After that she is consoled by Bacchus who falls
in love with her. The most commonly used instrument for illustrating love is
the transverse flute. That would also have been a better choice because of the
instrument's wider dynamic range and more differentiated colour palette. In
this cantata I find Ms Paulino's vibrato more of a problem, and the ornamentation
in the dacapo of the aria 'Regnez adorable mortelle' seems at odds with the
aria's character indication tendre.
My enthusiasm for this disc is limited. The choice of repertoire is disappointing
as far as the instrumental music is concerned. The cantatas are the main attraction,
even though the performances are not top-notch.
Johan van Veen
The cantatas are the main attraction of this disc, even though the performances
are not top-notch.