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Louis-Gabriel GUILLEMAIN (1705-1770)
Second livre de sonates en quatuor, oeuvre XVII
Sonata I [13:43]
Sonata II [10:54]
Sonata III [11:17]
Sonata IV [10:47]
Sonata V [12:15]
Sonata VI [12:10]
Ensemble la Française
Recorded 2020 at the Chapelle de l'Hôpital de Fourvière, Lyon, France
MUSICA FICTA MF8034 [71:07]

During the baroque period, the quartet was considered the supreme form of chamber music. Trio sonatas were composed in large numbers, and were intended for the growing market of musical amateurs, but quartets were far less common, and were seldom published. The liner-notes to the disc under review here, mention that between 1730 and 1756 only six collections of quartets were printed.

1730 is the year that Georg Philipp Telemann published six Quadri, and in 1756 the six quartets by Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, which are the subject of the present disc, came from the press. More quartets were written, for instance by Telemann's colleague Johann Friedrich Fasch, but these were never printed. Telemann's quartets were considered the perfect specimens of the genre, and were praised as models by Johann Joachim Quantz. There can be little doubt that they were very influential, not only in Germany, but also in France. Telemann's Quadri were published in a pirated edition in Paris in 1736. In 1737/38 he stayed in Paris, and this resulted in the publication of another set of six quartets, today generally known as the 'Paris quartets'. They were played at the time by some of the main virtuosos, such as Michel Blavet (transverse flute), Jean-Pierre Guignon (violin) and Jean-Baptiste Forqueray (viola da gamba).

Guignon was one of the leading violinists at that time, alongside Jean-Marie Leclair and Louis-Gabriel Guillemain. The latter studied with the famous violin teacher and composer Giovanni Battista Somis in Turin. At the age of 24, he started to work in the opera orchestra of Lyon. Between 1725 and 1738 he was the first violinist of the Académie de Musique in Dijon. He found a patron in Monsieur Chartraire de Bourbonne, who gave him the opportunity to travel to Italy again to broaden his musical horizon. In 1734 he published his first collection of sonatas, for violin and basso continuo, which he dedicated to his patron. Shortly thereafter he went to Paris, where he entered the service of the court of Louis XV, in a modest function. After some time he rose to the status of one of the best-paid musicians at the court. That did not prevent his getting into financial difficulties, and in 1770 he died under unclear circumstances. It is generally assumed that the financial worries were too much for him and that he committed suicide.

The sonatas of 1734 were followed by seventeen further collections of instrumental music in various scorings. Among them are pieces for two instruments without accompaniment - for example for musettes or transverse flutes - but also sonatas for harpsichord with accompaniment of violin (such as the Op. 13) and trio sonatas dans le goût italien. In 1740, Guillemain published a collection of quartets - called concertinos - for two violins, viola and basso continuo. His quartets Op. 12 came from the press in 1743; he called them sonates en quatuor ou conversations galantes. This last term refers to what was then the ideal of the higher classes: music that was pleasant to the ear and was technically not too demanding. This collection was followed in 1756 by a second volume as his Op. 17, for the same scoring: transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. They are reworkings of the sonatas for harpsichord with accompaniment of a violin Op. 13.

These quartets bear the same title as the quartets Op. 12, and can be seen as their sequels. They are all in three movements, and have the same structure: they open with an allegro, which is followed by an aria gratioso;the last movement is a presto. The titles of some movements, in particular the arias, have the addition altro, which represents a contrasting episode, giving such movements an ABA structure.

Stylistically, they belong to the period in which the galant idiom dominated the music scene, as the title of the collection indicates. One should not expect much counterpoint here. The instruments often play in parallel motion, and there are also some passages in unisono. That is the case, for instance, in the last movement of the sixth quartet, which has the character of a Kehraus. It has strong folkloristic traits, and reminds me of the folk dances, which often close Telemann's instrumental music. It can be seen as further proof that Guillemain, like other French composers, were indeed inspired by their German colleague.

Aude Lestienne, the flautist of the Ensemble la Française, writes in the booklet that she and her colleagues Shiho Ono (violin), Myriam Ropars (viola da gamba), Jean-Baptiste Valfré (cello) and Kazuya Gunji (harpsichord) were delighted to find out that Guillemai had written a second set of quartets which had never been recorded. That is easy to understand: these quartets are delightful pieces, and perfect examples of what the ideal of the time was, as expressed in the title of these quartets. I am happy to say that the members of the ensemble fully master the art of a galant conversation. The music is very entertaining, and the performers deliver outstanding performances. I was impressed by their first disc, which I nominated as a Recording of the Month (review). This disc is of the same high level and deserves once again a special recommendation. I very much hope to hear more from this ensemble in the near future.

Johan van Veen


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