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Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749)
Chamber Music from the Brossard Collection
Sonata VIIa in E Minor 'La Magnifique' [9:55]
Chaconne in D Major [5:34]
Prelude in C Minor [2:23]
Sonata VIa in D Minor: 'L'Impromptu' [5:41]
Sonata Prima in G Major: 'Anonima' [11:25]
Prelude in C Major [2:33]
Sonata IIIa in B Flat Major: 'L'Abondance' [8:14]
Sonata IIa in G Major: 'La Félicité' [7:06]
Chaconne in A Major [5:49]
The Bach Players (Nicolette Moonen (violin), Oliver Webber (violin), Reiko Ichise (viola da gamba), Silas Wollston (harpsichord))
rec. 2018, St. Michael’s Church, Highgate, London, England
COVIELLO COV91928 [58:49]

For all but the most ardent of French baroque enthusiasts the name of Louis-Nicolas Clérambault might well be a new one, however, he was a major figure in the musical life of France, succeeding Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers after his death in 1714 as the organist of the church of Saint-Sulpice, a major musical office in Paris at the time. Though mainly known as an organist, I only have a few of his pieces for that instrument, he was the chief architect in the development of the ‘French Cantata’, and most of the discs I own revolve around this medium. I also have a disc of his music for harpsichord, which tend, as most French pieces of the period, to be arranged into suites of dance movements, with this being the first disc dedicated to his chamber music that I have.

The pieces collected here are from the Brossard Collection, a large collection of manuscripts that were collected by the French music theorist, composer and priest, Sébastien de Brossard (1655-1730), with the collection being the only source of works by some 17th century German and Italian composers. It is also a major collection for French music of the period, with The Bach Players having already mined it for their previous excellent disc that presented the music of Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (COV 91815), which Johan van Veen praised highly in these pages last year.

The music performed here represents his complete chamber music, which whilst difficult to date, Catherine Cessac, in her excellent booklet note, suggests they are from the first flowerings of the French sonata, as they have similarities to works by François Couperin and Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre that date from around the end of the seventeenth century. The five sonatas presented here, along with a number of stand-alone pieces, show a composer at home in the medium, one who effortlessly blends the tone of the violins with that of the bass to produce some wonderful music. The music is strongly articulated and reminiscent of early French sonata form, with their different number of movements being so typical of the period, also the tuning of the violin. There is also the combination of the traditional dance movements, typical of the French suite, which are here combined with Italianate time signatures, with the Sonata prima in G “Anonima” containing no dance movements at all. At this point I should say something about the names of the sonatas, as Cessac points out that these, rather than being descriptive of the movements, are purely there to distinguish one from another.

The disc opens with the Sonata in E minor ‘La magnifique’, which is quite wonderful and my particular favourite of the five sonatas, this strongly attractive music makes an impression from the very first bar of the opening [Lentement], all the sonatas begin with a slow movement. this sonata only has two dance movements, à Sarabande and à Gigue, however, these are not the only dance like movements, with all six offering an air of the dance, even in the slower music, as the following Allegro clearly illustrates. All of the sonatas offer the listener colourful and entertaining music, which any devotee of baroque music will get enjoyment from, I know I have and will continue to do in the future. The disc also contains two chaconnes and two preludes, which follow in the character of the sonatas and add to the overall effect and enjoyment, with the Chaconne in D being particularly fine as is the Prelude in C, which here has been transposed to B flat, with its doleful, even pensive feel.

This fine recording will give great pleasure to the listener and certainly adds to our understanding of the music of the composer. The performance of The Bach Players is excellent, you get a real sense of enjoyment from their playing of Clérambault’s music. The recorded sound is quite natural, with the acoustic of the church bringing the best out of the music. A highly informative booklet essay gives the listener great insight into the composer and his music. It is hoped that The Bach Players continue to mine the Brossard Collection and come up with further treasures for future recording projects. An excellent disc, one that is well worth the investment of time and money, as the rewards are great.

Stuart Sillitoe

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