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Joseph Bodin de BOISMORTIER (1689-1755) Sonates pour violon op. 20
Sonata prima [8:23]
Sonata seconda [12:01]
Sonata terza [11:04]
Sonata quarta [10:29]
Sonata quinta [12:18]
Sonata sesta [10:34]
Olivier Brault (violin)
rec. 2018, Église Saint-François-de-Sales, Laval (Québec), Canada ANALEKTA AN28769 [65:16]
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier devoted his entire career to the composition of music which was within the grasp of the amateurs of his days. This explains why so many pieces are intended for the transverse flute, which in the course of the first half of the 18th century developed into the most popular instrument. In addition he wrote many pieces for two increasingly fashionable instruments, the musette and the vielle. A third feature of Boismortier's oeuvre is the fact that he often offered alternative scorings for his chamber music. Many pieces can be played either on flutes, violins, oboes or viols. This made his printed editions all the more attractive to amateurs. He was so successful that he could make a living from his publications, and did not need to be in the service of a patron or an institution.
The violin plays a relatively marginal role in his oeuvre. Originally it was mostly used for dance music and as one of the instruments in the orchestra. After 1700 French composers and music lovers started to embrace the Italian style, and as a result the violin gradually emancipated into a serious instrument. Jean-Marie Leclair was one of its main exponents, and it is telling that he went to Turin to study with Giovanni Battista Somis. Unlike Leclair, Boismortier was not a violinist; in fact, he was not a performer at all. Therefore it does not surprise that his compostions don't explore the full technical possibilities of the respective instruments. For amateurs, that was just as well.
In the case of the pieces for violin, Boismortier produced sonatas which could be played by any good amateur. They don't include any double stopping, for instance. In comparison, Leclair wrote most of his sonatas for his own use or that of advanced pupils. The sonatas Op. 20, which appear here on disc for the first time, represent the very first collection of pieces for violin by Boismortier, and date from 1727. It was only around 1740 that he was to publish another set of sonatas for violin and basso continuo.
The Op. 20 set comprises six sonatas of different complexion. They consist of four or five movements, and most of these have the form of dances: allemande, gigue, courante, sarabande. However, all of them have Italian titles (allemanda, giga) and Boismortier also includes purely Italian movements, such as largo, allegro and andante. These sonatas are in line with what had become the ideal of several French composers, in the wake of François Couperin: the goût-réuni - the mixed taste.
The way the sonatas are structured, is also different. The Sonata prima, for instance, opens in the Italian manner with a largo and an allegro, followed by a movement, called 'poco allegro', and closes with a giga. The Sonata quinta, on the other hand, comprises four dance movements: two allemandas are followed by a sarabanda and a gavotta. The Sonata sesta comprises five movements: the opening largo is followed by four dance movements.
It is easy to understand why Boismortier had so much success with his chamber music. It may be technically not very complicated, but it is very well written and nice to listen to. Considering the number of printed editions, one may suspect that his music is superficial. Some of his contemporaries expressed such criticism, but part of it may have been inspired by jealousy. If one listens to these six violin sonatas, there is no hint of superficiality at all. These are fine pieces, and one can only be grateful to Olivier Brault and his colleagues Mélisande Corriveau (viola da gamba) and Dorothéa Ventura (harpsichord) for bringing them to life in this recording, which is part of a project concerning the exploration of French music for violin and basso continuo. Together they deliver splendid performances. I like the dynamic differentiation between good and bad notes, as a result of which the rhythmic pulse in the dance movements comes off perfectly. The slow movements are certainly not without expression, such as the largo that opens the Sonata sesta, and that is not lost on the performers.
I have greatly enjoyed both the music and the way it is performed. Lovers of the baroque violin should not hesitate to add this disc to their collection.