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Blancrocher - l’Offrande
Pierre Gallon (harpsichord)
Diego Salamanca (lute: Blancrocher)
rec. 2019, Studio de l’Orchestre National d’Île-de-France, Alfortville
ENCELADE ECL1901 [77:54]

This album should appeal to anyone with an interest in French harpsichord music of the seventeenth century. Pierre Gallon plays with sensitivity and idiomatic awareness. The two harpsichords he plays – one made by Phillippe Humeau in 2016 and based on a number of Italian models from the second half of the 17th century, the other by Émile Jobin in 2009 after a 1691 instrument by Vincent Tibaut of Toulouse – both sound fine. Both are tuned in a meantone temperament at A=411. The recording captures their sound well.

Apart from its intrinsic qualities, the album is valuable as an exemplification of how, in the words of David S. Buch, “the lute repertory had a profound influence on seventeenth-century keyboard composers” (‘Style brisé, Style luthé and the Choses luthées’, The Musical Quarterly, 71(1), 1985, p.52). This follows, almost inevitably, from the fact that the starting point for Pierre Gallon’s conception of the album was the way in which both Louis Couperin and Froberger had each written a tombeau in memory of the lutenist and composer Charles Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher (c.1605-52). Fleury, usually referred to simply by the name Blancrocher (or variant spellings thereof), was an ‘amateur’ lutenist who achieved considerable fame in French musical circles. Only one of his compositions survives, but it is clear that he was held in high regard as an instrumentalist. Oddly, his death is perhaps the best-known thing about him nowadays. In November 1652 he was one of the guests at a dinner in the royal court. From the dinner, where one assumes that food and wine had been plentiful, he returned to his apartment in the Rue des Bons-Enfants near the Louvre and the Palais Royal. As he made his way upstairs to his apartment, he fell, and was badly injured. Froberger had walked with him, and he hurried off to find a doctor, while Blancrocher was carried to bed by his wife and others. Froberger, having returned with a doctor, was at the bedside when he died.

The respect in which Blancrocher was held is reflected in the fact that as well as the tombeaux for harpsichord, by Froberger and Louis Couperin, two more were written for lute by François Dufaut and Denis Gaultier. Gallon plays both of these in his own transcriptions for harpsichord. The lutenist Diego Salamanca closes the album with a fine performance of Blancrocher’s one surviving composition, an allemande.

Not surprisingly, Froberger’s tombeau, with its plangent chords and powerful emotional expressiveness, has a strong sense of personal involvement. Gallon’s reading of the piece is well paced, with a decent, but not exaggerated, respect for the many pauses in Froberger’s score. Similarly, he resists the temptation to overdramatize the descending scale near the close - surely intended to make the listener think of the fall that killed Blancrocher.

Louis Couperin’s tombeau is ‘statelier’, perhaps a little more distanced. Though the sense of personal tribute is not absent, this is a work which, to quote from Jonathan Woolf’s review of another performance, seems more concerned with “the saturnine and invincible forces ranged against humanity” than with the death of a specific individual. The different emphases which characterize the tombeaux by Froberger and Louis Couperin (the one very personal, the other ‘universal’ in its meditation on mortality) are well articulated by Gallon. A more ‘dramatic’ reading of Couperin’s tombeau can, incidentally, be heard on Rinaldo Alessandrini’s Couperin recital (NAÏVE OP 30577).

Of the two tombeaux originally written for the lute, by François Dufaut and Denis Gaultier (with whom Dufaut studied), that by Dufaut has a particularly arresting opening, but doesn’t develop its material particularly well; Dufaut’s compositions frequently sound almost like improvisations. Gautier’s tombeau promises ‘Larmes’ (tears) in its title and it does indeed have a touchingly pensive and, yes, lachrymose quality which is quietly moving. The transcription involved in the switch of instrument seems to work better here. Still, it doesn’t quite have that involving intimacy which one finds in a really good reading of the piece on the composer’s own instrument as, for example, on Jonas Nordberg’s CD De Visée, Weiss & Dufaut (Eudora EDDR1502).

The other transcriptions from Dufaut are, I am happy to report, more successful. The tracks which here follow Dufaut’s Tombeau are often played alongside it as a Suite in G minor. In Gallon’s transcriptions for harpsichord the ‘Sarabande & double’ and the ‘Gigue’ are particularly attractive. Dufaut had a Europe-wide reputation as a performer on, and a composer for, the lute – as evidenced in Tim Crawford’s paper ‘The historical importance of François Dufault and his influence on musicians outside France’ – available online. Dufaut appears to have made more than one visit to England. As Crawford mentions, he was dismissed as “a petty French lutenist” by one Richard Flecknoe (c.1605-c.1677), an amateur lutenist of little distinction and a very poor poet and dramatist. For reasons other than his opinion of Dufaut, Flecknoe – who had a wildly exaggerated idea of his own abilities – was mockingly ‘celebrated’ by a genuine poet, John Dryden in his satirical poem Mac Flecknoe of 1682 as one who:

In prose and verse was owned without dispute
Through all the realms of Nonsense absolute.

Pierre Gallon also plays a set of four pieces by Denis Gaultier, three of them transcribed by Gallon and the fourth by Jean-Henri D’Anglebert (1635-1691), a harpsichordist of great distinction who, by his arrangements and transcriptions of lute pieces for his own instrument – a number of such ‘versions’ being contained in a manuscript (Rés. 89ter) in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Pierre Gallon tells us in his booklet essay that in making his own transcriptions for harpsichord he learned from the example of D’Angelbert as well as from a manuscript of 1695 (MO1037), now in the Benedictine abbey of Ottobeuren near Memmingen in Bavaria, which “contains a good number of lute pieces transcribed at the time for keyboard, including a transcription of the Tombeau written by Dufaut”. The four pieces work well here in Gallon’s performances, particularly the Sarabande and Fantaisies, both of which manage to remind one of the lute while being thoroughly suited to the keyboard.

Elsewhere, Froberger’s work impresses consistently. In his fusion of French and Italian styles - he studied for three years with Frescobaldi in Rome - building on earlier Northern influences such as Sweelinck - Froberger came close to creating a truly pan-European harpsichord style. We could have assumed that an Italianate toccata such as the one listed here as ‘Tocade’ would have interested all but the most xenophobic amongst French harpsichordists, but we don’t actually need to make the assumption. Clear evidence is provided in a piece by Louis Couperin which is also played here, his ‘Prélude à l’imitation de Mr. Froberger’, which could hardly carry a more explicit title – and the affinities are, indeed, very clear. The sequence of four pieces beginning with Froberger’s ‘Allemande faite à Paris’ is also very fine, especially this opening Allemande, which gets a beautiful performance from Pierre Gallon, thoughtful and serious but quite without any undue heaviness.

Pierre Gallon’s booklet essay imagines a musical evening “at Mr. Blancheroche’s home … It is late in the evening, after supper … Fleury takes his lute and plays a first piece for his guests … Froberger feels quite at home here so he takes the plunge; offering a musical account of one of his many journeys … his chaotic crossing of the Rhine [this would have been his ‘Allemande faite en passant le Rhin dans une barque en grand peril] … Then it’s Couperin’s turn; he warms up by imitating Froberger’s style. Harpsichord music is played on the lute and lute music on the harpsichord.” It is an attractive fancy and even though such an evening could not, for obvious reasons, have included the very same pieces as those making up this CD, yet Blancrocher: l’Offrande probably gives us an experience as close as we are ever likely to have of eavesdropping on the kinds of musical ‘conversation’ that surely did take place on certain evenings in the Rue des Bons-Enfants

Glyn Pursglove

Louis COUPERIN (c.1626-1661)
Prélude [3:31]
François DUFAUT (before 1604-1672)
Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher [3:23]
Courante [1:49]
Sarabande & double [1:37]
Gigue [1:12]
Gavotte [1:02]
Johann Jakob FROBERGER (1616-1667)
Tombeau fait à Paris sur le mort de Monsieur Blanceroche [6:08]
Fantaisie [3:01]
Johann Jakob FROBERGER
Tocade [4:24]
Fantasia [4:50]
Denis GAULTIER (1603-1672)
Lais larmes de Gautier ou Le Tombeau de Blancrocher [8:14]
Prélude à l’imitation de Monsieur Froberger [8:14]
Johann Jakob FROBERGER
Allemande faite à Paris [4:39]
Courante [1:43]
Sarabanda [2:41]
Gigue [1:21]
Prélude [1:14]
Sarabande (transcr. Jean-Henri D’ANGLEBERT) [2:05]
Fantaisies [1:50] 
Gigue [1:34]
Prélude [2:10]
Allemand Grave [3:53]
Courante [1:19]
Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher [5:03]
Charles Fleury de BLANCROCHER (c.1605-1652)
L’Offrande, allemande de Blan-Rocher [5:01]


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