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François FRANCŒUR (1698-1787)
Sonates à violon seul et basse continue Livre I (1720)
Kreeta-Maria Kentala (violin), Lauri Pulakka (cello), Mitzi Meyerson (harpsichord)
rec. Church of Kaustinen, Finland, 2018
GLOSSA GCD921809 [63:38+60:34]

Whilst not unknown to me, the music of the French composer and violinist, François Francœur, does not take up much room on my shelf, just a single disc of the Symphonies pour le Festin Royal du Comte d’Artois with Hugo Reyne (61676) prior to this one. François Francœur was born into a musical family in Paris, his father, Joseph Francœur, was a member of the prestigious Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roy and would be François first music teacher. At the age of fifteen François entered the Académie Royale de Musique, which was usually known simply as the ‘Opera’; this led to numerous performances as well as the opportunity to travel widely through the cultural capitals of Europe. On his return to Paris he became a member of the Concert Spirituel, and in 1730 he became, at the behest of Louis XV, a member of Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roy. In 1744 he became, along with François Rebel, joint music director of the Paris Opéra, becoming in 1757 responsible for all aspects of its management. This position led him into conflict with other contemporary musicians and composers over the primacy of French opera over Italian in the famous Querelle des Bouffons, and which would eventually save his life. This was due to his and Rebel’s dismissal from the Opera after a devastating fire, which led to his fall from grace, despite the fire being the fault of neither composer, and his journey into relative obscurity, meaning that whilst the gentlemen of the court suffered during the French Revolution, Francœur was left alone; other court musicians, including his nephew would spend long periods imprisoned, or suffer an even worse fate during the ‘reign of terror’..

Although a contemporary of the likes of Haydn and Mozart, Francœur’s music shows fewer classical-period traits than that of other composers of the period; this does not, however, mean that his music was unoriginal, with his compositions being important in the development of the ‘French style’. Here is a composer who can be discussed in the same way as C P E Bach, as something of a transitional composer, one who built upon the great French baroque tradition whilst looking forward in his own music to what was to follow; this makes him a difficult composer to categorise. This is clearly evident in his music as presented here in the first of his two books of 10 violin sonatas, with some pieces harking back to his predecessors in the way the sonatas are presented as a collection of dance movements, very much in the French style, whilst others show how he developed French music to be a pan-European style, one that develops those influences gained from the young composer’s many travels, incorporating them in his own music. This is best illustrated in the Sonata No. 7 in D minor, with the opening Adagio having a more Germanic feel, the third movement Rondeau being drawn from the music of Rameau, whilst the first theme of the fifth and final movement, Rondeau (gay), has more than a passing resemblance to the refrain of the seventeenth century English ballad for voice and violin band, ‘As att noone Dulcina rested’.

This set has a lot to offer the listener, with all the sonatas being engaging in their own way, numbers 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 are cast in five movements, the remainder in four, with each offering a variety of dance like movements and courtly music. The music contains some wonderful examples of solo writing as well as occasions when the continuo is more developed than just a supporting act so as to become more akin to a full-blown trio. Yes, when compared to the likes of Haydn, this music sounds somewhat dated, but when thought of as the epitome of the late French baroque style, a style which with its ‘advanced Rococo’ character was favoured both by Parisian concert goers and the mercantile classes of the cities such as London and Hamburg. The notes, whilst giving a good introduction to the composer and his musical world, are a little sketchy when it comes to the sonatas themselves, and I for one would have liked to see more discussion of the individual sonatas. What they do say is that published as a collection of ten sonatas, the contemporary concert goer would have usually only expected to have heard one of the sonatas at a time. For this reason, they have decided to refrain from presenting the ten in numerical order, opting instead to present them in an order that shows then in their best key relationships; however they are presented, this is music that should be heard.

The performance is excellent, Kreeta-Maria Kentala’s clear violin tone shows this music off to its best effect, whilst the support of Lauri Pulakka and Mitzi Meyerson shows a real partnership, I particularly like Meyerson’s playing on the second disc where she uses the instruments drone effects to good use. Both string instruments are period whilst the double manual harpsichord was built in 1999, sadly the booklet information does not say what the instrument was based upon. Together they produce a beautiful sound which has been recorded well, I only hope that Glossa give them the chance to record Francœur’s second book of violin sonatas which dates from ten years later in 1730, I for one would rush out and buy it.

Stuart Sillitoe

Sonata No. 1 in G Major [12:58]
Sonata No. 2 in E minor [13:16]
Sonata No. 4 in B minor [13:01]
Sonata No. 6 in E major [12:07]
Sonata No. 9 in A major [12:03]
Sonata No. 7 in D minor [13:39]
Sonata No. 5 in C minor [13:30]
Sonata No. 3 in B flat major [10:57]
Sonata No. 8 in F minor [9:18]
Sonata No. 10 in G Major [12:58]

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