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Les tourments de l’ame – The Complete Works
Jean-Baptiste FORQUERAY (1699-1782)
Suite No. 1 in D minor [27:35]
Suite No. 2 in G major [26:05]
Suite No. 3 in D major [37:52]
Suite No. 4 in G minor [33;35]
Suite No. 5 in C minor [31:14]
Three pieces from the Lille Manuscript for three viols (transc for two harpsichords) [10:41]
Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745)
Recueil de pièces de violle avec la basse tirée des meilleurs autheurs (Four early works) [9:45]
Various Composers
Pieces dedicated to the Forquerays (listed after review) [66:38]
Bonus Disc: A series of contemporary tributes to and recollections of the Forquerays, read (in French) by Nicolas Lormeau of the Comédie-Française, with musical extracts. [51:50]
Michèle Dévérité (harpsichord)
Kaori Uemura, Ricardo Rodriguez (violas de gamba)
Ryo Terakado (violin)
Robert Kohnen (harpsichord)
rec. 2014/15, Bra-sur-Lienne, Belgium
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM905286.89 [5 CDs: 295:15]

Had La famille Forqueray been around today, some three centuries after they graced the French court, it seems inconceivable that they wouldn’t be the subject of some must-see fly-on-the-wall reality TV series (presumably produced by Canal Plus), so dysfunctional were they. The antics of Dad (Antoine), Mum (Henriette-Angélique) and elder son (Jean-Baptiste) would doubtless enthral a global audience, be chewed over in lurid detail in the gossip columns of tabloid and broadsheet alike, possibly even be earnestly discussed by students on the ‘Freudian analysis and its role in pre-revolutionary France’ module at the Sorbonne. I am certain their musical ability would have eclipsed that of the Osbornes, while their couture and innate sense of style would have given the Kardashians a run for their money.

For those of you who haven’t been watching this imaginary series (or couldn’t follow Canal’s subtitles) this, in a nutshell, is what you missed: the boy Antoine is a prodigy on the viol, and at the age of ten plays before Louis XIV; the king pays for his further tuition on the bass viol and signs him up to be official court musician at the age of 17 – a role he (somehow) manages to keep until the end of his life. A few years later he meets lovely claveciniste Henriette-Angélique Houssou, he marries her and two years later they produce their first son Jean-Baptiste. Neighbours on the estate soon become aware that the jolly sounds of the infant frequently intermingle with the less agreeable noise of bickering parents. Soon after the birth of second son Nicolas, the old king gets to hear five-year-old Jean-Baptiste play the viola da gamba. The king is deeply impressed as the boy is clearly a chip off the old block, but as time passes and his marriage goes stale, increasingly embittered dad Antoine becomes possessed by the green-eyed monster to the point where he has Jean-Baptiste, by now 15 years old, flung into jail. Over time the envy deepens further, so dad organises a lettre de cachet with court big-wigs and thus has his (possibly more) talented son exiled from France, by this fait accomplis (worse than death), on dubious grounds of alleged “excessive debauchery” . This is short-lived, however. After Dad dies Jean-Baptiste seemingly forgives him by publishing transcriptions of 32 of his remaining works over five suites in two different versions; one for solo harpsichord and the other for viola da gamba with basso continuo.

While those five suites in their harpsichord guise form the backbone of this sumptuously produced set, my flippant prelude is not as misplaced as it may seem at first sight, as among the five discs containing the Forquerays’ complete extant oeuvre is a recited programme of contemporary accounts, reflections and vignettes concerning these extraordinary, if little-known figures. Alas my French isn’t nearly remotely good enough to make any sense of it whatsoever but it’s nonetheless heartening to think that the serious folk at Harmonia Mundi feel that these lives merit this sort of treatment. It’s billed as a bonus – although it will certainly not be the main reason enthusiasts buy this disc.

There is inevitably much fervent debate about the actual provenance of this music. The young French harpsichord player Justin Taylor released a much admired disc of music by the Forquerays on Alpha in 2016 (ALPHA CLASSICS 247 -it includes the First and Fifth Suites and you can read its MWI review here) to which he also contributed a scholarly note. While Jean-Baptiste’s own preface to these editions unambiguously states that these are pieces by his father, stylistically they seem to share traits with the music by the next generation of composers - ie Jean-Baptiste’s contemporaries. Moreover, Jean-Baptiste also admitted to including some of his own work, although the addition of the name Forcroy to each manuscript makes it impossible to deduce who composed what, as it were. In fact as I understand it, some commentators believe that La Angrave, La Du Vaucel, and La Morangis ou la Plissay (all from Suite No 3) are the Jean-Baptiste originals; while Justin Taylor seems convinced that La Forqueray from the Suite No 1 is the son’s portrait of his mad old dad.

Another interesting point is that Jean-Baptiste apparently claimed to have added the bass notation to his father’s work in the viola da gamba with continuo version, yet made no attempt whatsoever to transpose this music in its harpsichord guise, which contributes to its uniquely bass-heavy character. This is really apparent when playing disc 4 in this set, a miscellany series of pieces dedicated to the Forquerays by contemporaries and successors such as Couperin, Duphly and Rameau père et fils. Some of the pieces included seem to lie much higher on the instrument than the pieces in the Forqueray suites. An attractive feature of this disc is the inclusion of two brief but fascinating tributes by living French composers, Ana Giurgiu-Bondue and Pierre-Alain Braye-Weppe whose Tombeau de Forqueray is especially touching and unusual.

So what of the five suites- and their performances here? The 32 individual pieces that constitute them are sometimes character portraits of significant glitterati from the Forquerays’ circle; pieces such as La Couperin (Suite No 1), La Leclair (Suite No 2) or La Rameau (Suite No 5) depict the traits and personalities of leading composers, they are thus affectionate sonic vignettes frozen in time. Their tempo indications provide clues in themselves to the listener, for instance La Couperin is instructed to be played Noblement et marqué whereas La Rameau merits the yet more regal Majesteusement. Michèle Dévérité’s magnificent playing brings these characters into fully-formed three-dimensional life. And not just composers: there are tributes to instrumentalists: the violists La Bellemont (Suite No 1) and La Guignon (No 5) are portrayed in terms that synthesise their virtuosity and their characters; the music-historian Jean-Benjamin de La Borde is immortalised in La Laborde (Suite No 1). In this piece, austere and dissonant chords and weird harmonies collide here and there; elements of it sound strangely modern (it’s one of the few items involving the viol/basso continuo combination – unlike the starker but no less interesting solo harpsichord account on the Justin Taylor disc). It turns out that La Borde also invented a chromatic harpsichord with twenty-one notes within the octave. He was clearly an early 18th century Harry Partch.

La Tronchin (Suite 3) pays homage to a renowned Swiss surgeon; La Montigni (no 5) to a watchmaker, Dévérité emphasising a ticking rhythm which at once evokes the atmosphere of a horological workshop. Other pieces namecheck contemporary racial stereotypes (La Portugais – Suite No 1); newly fashionable (ie Italian) musical instruments at the Paris court (La Mandoline –No 2); towns and places (La Morangis ou la Plissay, a superb extended chaconne in Suite No 3) even gods in the brilliant Jupiter (No 5) – this is dark, angry, visceral music, vividly and lovingly performed; Ms. Dévérité’s note points out that the real fury here is actually and unexpectedly depicted by the viola da gamba. These picturesque scenes and affectionate homages and caricatures reveal that Les Forquerays were effectively musical social historians – the range of content covered and the variety of styles involved in its dissemination is utterly dizzying and Dévérité’s flexibility of approach ensures each particular piece inhabits its own unique world. Her instrumental collaborators here, notably the violist Kaori Uembra provide magnificent support (and leadership where necessary). Moreover she has three very different sounding harpsichords at her disposal which greatly increases the range of colour and timbre available, and thus multiplies the pleasure for the listener. The recorded sound is faithfully conveyed, detailed but never over-analytical.

Dévérité’s booklet notes are pithy and epitomise great humanity as well as academic rigour, while the former quality consistently illuminates her playing across all five suites. To be honest, on receiving this extensive set I was rather daunted by the prospect of listening to four or so hours of La famille Forqueray three times in a concentrated period of time, let alone by writing about it. I needn’t have worried – the real variety of sound and style from piece to piece utterly engrossed and captivated me. While I enjoyed Justin Taylor’s disc greatly, this splendid edition from Harmonia Mundi has really extended my burgeoning appreciation of the achievement of these feisty Forquerays.

Richard Hanlon


Contents of Disc 4
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
La Forqueray [4:40]
Ana GIURGIU-BONDUE (1977-) Carillons pour Forqueray [3:34]
Charles-François CLÉMENT (c. 1720-after 1789) Allegro ma non troppo [3:44];
Sonatas for violin and harpsichord: No 6 [11:20]; No.4 [4:35]; No.1 [11:25]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733) La Forqueray [5:21]
Josse BOUTMY (1697-1779) La Forcroy [3:00]
Louis-Antoine DORNEL (1680-1756) La Forcroy [5:19]
Pierre-Alain BRAYE-WEPPE (1981-) Tombeau de Forqueray [4:12]
Jacques DUPHLY (1715-1789) La Forqueray [7:44]
Claude-François RAMEAU (1727-1788) La Forcray [1:44]

 

 




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