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François DEVIENNE (1759 - 1803)
Trio in B flat, op. 17,1 [9:28]
Trio in C, op. 17,2 [7:55]
Trio in G, op. 17,3 [8:23]
Trio in F, op. 17,4 [10:45]
Trio in E flat, op. 17,5 [7:14]
Trio in G, op. 17,6 [9:49]
Les Visitandines, opéra comique*(arr. for bassoon, violin, viola and cello by Mathieu Lussier): Ô toi dont ma mémoire, air [5:51] Le ciel, mes soeurs, vous tienne en joie, air [1:38] Quoi! Vous voulez coucher dans la maison?, trio [3:51]
Mathieu Lussier (bassoon), Pascale Giguère (violin), Benoît Loiselle (viola)*, Jean-Louis Blouin (cello)
rec. March 2010, Église Saint-Augustin, Mirabel (Québec), Canada. DDD
ATMA ACD2 2583 [65:38]

In the second half of the 18th century the growing market of amateur musicians encouraged composers to write music which could be played in domestic surroundings. Whereas the string quartet soon developed into a genre for professional players, music for a wind instrument and strings was mostly written for amateurs. Quartets were most common, but trios were also written, although they were in the minority.
François Devienne was a popular composer in his time. He was from the Haute-Marne and was educated at the flute and the bassoon. In 1779 he joined the orchestra of the Paris Opéra as a bassoonist and in the first half of the 1780s he was at the service of a Cardinal. At that time he presumably became a member of the Loge Olympique which performed, among others, Haydn's Paris symphonies. He also appeared at the Concert Spirituel where he performed some of his concertos for flute and for bassoon respectively. In the 1790s he was principal bassoonist of the Théâtre de Monsieur, a position he held until 1801.
In 1794 he published a method for the one-keyed flute, which includes much information about playing technique and performance practice. When in 1795 the Conservatoire was established Devienne was appointed as professor of flute.
Devienne was a versatile composer who was especially known for his music for the stage, his concertos and sinfonias concertante as well as his chamber music. When he died in 1803 his obituary stated that "his quartets are played everywhere". It was probably due to his being a workaholic that he spent his final months in a mental hospital. However, Mathieu Lussier, in his liner-notes, asks: "Was it just workaholism that drove Devienne mad, or was it also those dangerous years of political maneuvering, jumping from one ship to another at the right moment?" Apparently Devienne had a good sense of what was appropriate as he survived the political turbulence of the late 1790s.
The trios op. 17 recorded here bear the traces of diverting music as it was so frequently produced at the time. Among those traces are that they have only two movements, mostly in fast tempi. Only two trios have a slow movement, none of them is in a minor key. Two trios end with a rondo, two others with a set of variations. These are two of the most popular forms in Devienne's time. Another notable feature is the repetition of notes, especially in passages where one instrument - for instance the cello - has the role of accompaniment.
The division of roles between the instruments is different. Often the bassoon has the lead, but there are also passages in which the violin comes forward. The instruments sometimes imitate each other; at other moments they play in parallels. There are also episodes in which the bassoon is involved in a dialogue with the two strings.
The disc ends with three extracts from a comic opera, which Lussier has arranged for bassoon and string trio. They shed light on a significant part of Devienne's oeuvre: music for the stage. I can't remember ever having heard any of that. These extracts suggest that it is well worth exploring.
Lussier has recorded some of Devienne's music before: his Quartets op. 73. It is good to notice that he is not carried away by the music of his 'hero'. In his liner-notes he admits that "[one] senses, sometimes, the absence of the viola", and "the almost complete absence of slow movements (...) almost makes the set of pieces too homogeneous (...)". Later he notices an "occasional awkwardness". In his assessment he is refreshingly down-to-earth, which is much to be preferred over the sometimes over-the-top judgements of interpreters who suggest that the music they have discovered is something we can't do without.
Lussier states that this music "deserves a place in the repertoire of bassoon chamber music". I share this view as I have greatly enjoyed these trios. That is also due to the lively and engaging performances by Lussier and his colleagues. They play modern instruments in 'period style'. I wonder, though, whether the use of a period bassoon would have made this recording even better. The Quartets op. 73 were also recorded by Jane Gower with her ensemble island (review). In the liner-notes to that recording she emphasizes the importance of using a period instrument. "Each chromatic note (...) has to be fingered by means of complicated cross-fingering patterns, each having its own specific tone-colour and attack." On a modern instrument Devienne's music is just "nice", in her view. A comparison between that recording and the present one proves her right, despite the difference in repertoire.
That said, this disc will most certainly appeal to lovers of the bassoon and many others who just love good musical entertainment.
Johan van Veen