Charles DIEUPART (after 1667-c1740) Six Suites de clavecin
Suite No. 6 in f minor [16:25]
Suite No. 5 in F [20:52]
Suite No. 3 in b minor [18:33]
Suite No. 2 in D [14:00]
Suite No. 4 in e minor [16:19]
Suite No. 1 in A [18:49]
Fernando Miguel Jalôto (harpsichord)
rec. 2012, Église de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, Basse-Bodeux, Belgium. DDD BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95026 [52:14 + 49:35]
In the early decades of the 18th century London was one of Euope's main cultural centres. It attracted many performing musicians and composers from across the continent who settled there for a shorter or longer period. Among them were Italians (Geminiani, Bononcini), Germans (Handel, Pepusch) and Dutch (De Fesch, Hellendaal). In this company we find the composer who is the subject of the present set of discs: Charles Dieupart. Little is known about his early years, and that includes the place and date of his birth. There is a little confusion about his Christian name: English sources refer to him as Charles whereas an autograph letter in French is signed F. Dieupart, the F referring to François.
The first sign of his musical activities is the collection of six suites which was published in 1701 in Amsterdam in two different editions. One was for harpsichord solo, the other for transverse flute, violin and bc. Both were produced at the instigation of Dieupart himself. This was certainly inspired by the wish to increase sales. They were dedicated to his English pupil, Countess Elisabeth of Sandwich, who resided in France at the end of the 17th century, probably for reasons of health. She could also have been the one who suggested Dieupart should move to London.
Here he seems to have settled in 1703 at the latest as in February of that year he participated in a performance of sonatas by Corelli. His name would ever be connected to that of Corelli: the last documented performance dates from 1724 when he was referred to as "Capt Dupar, Scholar to the late celebrated Signor Corelli". However, for most of his years in London he actively participated in theatrical performances. He closely cooperated with the Italian-born cellist, composer and librettist Nicolo Francesco Haym, especially in performances at the Drury Lane Theatre. Here he played continuo in Italian operas, such as Bononcini's Il trionfo di Camilla. He also composed theatre music, for instance for a pasticcio which was put together by the French-born librettist Peter Anthony Motteux. Dieupart was also one of the founders of the famous Academy of Ancient Music, together with the likes of Geminiani and Croft.
The six suites are unique in several ways. Dieupart was the first French composer to publish his harpsichord pieces under the title of suites. Such editions were usually printed as pièces de clavecin, and later Couperin presented them as ordres. Also notable is that every suite opens with an ouverture rather than a prélude. This is a clear reference to the operas by Jean-Baptiste Lully which were still very much the standard at the time Dieupart composed his suites. Whereas in French collections of harpsichord pieces the performer could pick and choose the pieces as he liked or the pieces were ordered according to key with a different number of movements, Dieupart's suites follow a structured pattern. In every suite the overture is followed by six dances: allemande, courante, sarabande, gavotte, menuet and gigue. Only the Suite No. 2 in D derives from this as the menuet is replaced by a passepied. This kind of suites was more common in Germany than in France, and there is general agreement that Bach was influenced by Dieupart's suites when he composed several collections of suites. It is known that he copied Dieupart's suites when he was employed at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst von Sachsen-Weimar. Bach was not the only one who was interested in Dieupart's suites. Copies of the collection have been preserved across the continent.
These suites show considerable contrasts between the various movements which is underlined by Fernando Miguel Jalôto. That especially concerns the tempi. The allemandes are quite slow; slower than I am used to hear in performances of harpsichord suites. This seems to be in line with how Jalôto analyses these suites: "Even in the rare vivacious movements, such as the Gigues and the reprises of the Ouvertures, Dieupart's suites are always tender and delicate in expressionm, with eloquent cantabile melodies, sophisticated ornamentation and a very sure command of harmony". He also refers to the overtures as "attempts to translate orchestral forms to a keyboard instrument". This is expressed here by coupling the manuals which creates a kind of 'orchestral sound'. The overture from the Suite No. 1 in A includes some notable harmonic progressions.
I would probably have preferred the allemandes to have been played a little faster but Jalôto plays them very well. Despite the pretty slow tempi he manages to keep the musical flow alive. The allemandes don't come to a standstill and don't fall apart. The same goes for the sarabandes where the slow tempi are more obvious. One should not get the impression that Jalôto only plays slowly; pieces such as gavotte and gigue get the vivacious tempi they need. He plays an interesting instrument: a copy of a harpsichord from around 1690 - not much earlier than Dieupart composed his suites. It has a strong and penetrating sound, especially in the discant, and therefore it is probably advisable not to turn your volume control too high.
This is definitely a most interesting set. These suites were probably not available on disc - in 1998 Huguette Grémy-Chauliac recorded these suites for the French label Pierre Verany, but I don't know if that was easily accessible or whether it is still available. She needed just one disc, probably due to faster tempi and maybe to more modesty in the application of repeats. For his interpretation Jalôto refers to a French treatise of 1702 which says that the performer should give a piece the tempo "which satisfies his own taste" rather than the tempo which the composer tried to indicate by the time signature. Whether that view is universally applicable is an open question, but the result in this particular case is satisfying.
The fact that these suites are not that well known — at least not in their harpsichord version — their quality and the level of performance are ample justification to label this set Recording of the Month.