A French Soirée
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Flore, ballet (LWV 40):
Entrée pour Vertumne [1:01]
Entrée pour les Jardiniers et quatre Galants [0:51]
Entrée pour les Galants et les Dames [1:16]
Menuet pour les mêmes [1:02]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Les Goûts-Réunis, Concerto No. 7 in g minor:
allemande [2:49]
sarabande [3:44]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Pièces de viole, 3e livre:
La Guitare [6:32]
Les Goûts-Réunis, Concerto No. 7 in g minor:
sicilienne [2:32]
gavotte [1:18]
Pièces de viole, 1er livre:
prélude [1:38]
chaconne [6:18]
Concerts Royaux: Concerto No. 3 in A [16:04]
Jean-Fery REBEL (1666-1747)
Sonata for violin and bc in d, op. 2,8 [6:43]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Pièces de clavecin en concert, 4e Concert in B flat [10:22]
Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Sonata for violin and bc in G, op. 5,12 [16:15]
Trio Settecento (Rachel Barton Pine (violin), John Mark Rozendaal (viola da gamba), David Schrader (harpsichord))
rec. 10-14 August 2010, Nichols Concert Hall, Music Institute of Chicago, Evanston, Ill., USA. DDD
CEDILLE CDR 90000 129 [78:55]
If you read the booklet of this disc you might get the impression that the artists think that the listener is largely unfamiliar with French baroque music. In a personal note Rachel Barton Pine describes how much effort it took to get used to the low pitch which is needed in this repertoire. She also explains why French music is so sporadically played on modern instruments. One wonders how many musicians and ensembles are still playing baroque music on modern instruments. She states that listening to French baroque music is like "stepping into a fantasy world of elegance and opulence". I suspect many listeners dwell regularly in that world, and this disc has nothing really new in store for them. Maybe this disc is first and foremost aimed at the American market and the situation is a bit different there than, for instance, in Europe. Over the last decade or so many discs of French baroque music have been released. There’s hardly a need to introduce the listener to the world of Lully, Couperin or Rameau. 
So, there’s nothing really new here. As far as I can see all the pieces on the programme have been recorded before. That in itself shouldn't prevent artists like the members of the Trio Settecento to record them. Even so, I would have liked to see more adventurous programming. The Pièces de clavecin en concert by Rameau are available in a number of recordings, and so are the concertos by Couperin. The least-known music could be the movements from the ballet Flore by Lully. Unfortunately they get the least satisfying performance, as they are scored for orchestra. This pocket-sized performance hardly does justice to the grandeur of Lully's ballet music. After all, as John Mark Rozendaal writes in his liner-notes, Louis XIV himself took part in the performance as a dancer.
The four dances from Lully's ballet open the Divertissement which comes first on the disc. These are followed by pieces by Couperin and Marais, excerpts from larger works which are quite well known. Whether you like Ms Pine’s tone is a matter of taste, but the playing seems rigid and straightforward to my ears. I would have liked a more differentiated approach, with dynamic accents and a stronger distinction between the notes. That way the dance rhythms would have come off better.
The sonatas by Rebel and Leclair are by far the most interesting parts of this disc. They show the effects of the growth of the Italian style on violin composition in France. Both sonatas include multiple-stopping which is very rare in older French violin music. The Italian influence also leads to dramatic traits. These are effectively realised by the Trio Settecento. Particularly nice is the tremolo in the second movement of Leclair's sonata. Here again I would have liked the music to breathe more. In the corrente from Rebel's sonata, for instance, the space between phrases is hardly sufficient. It just goes on and on relentlessly. In the baroque era music was compared with speech and performances such as this make you lose your breath.
There can be no doubt about the good intentions and the enthusiasm of the performers, nor about their great technical skills. That said, this music needs a more relaxed and imaginative approach.
The notes by Rozendaal are informative, but the documentation is poor: the pieces by Couperin and Marais in the Divertissement and the sonatas by Rebel and Leclair are not identified. I have added the necessary information by using various sites on the internet.
Johan van Veen
This music needs a more relaxed and more imaginative approach.