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Joseph Bodin de Boismortier: 6 Sonates en Trio, Op. 41. Le Triomphe de L’Amour (Laura Rónai & Tom Moore, baroque flutes, Donna Fournier, viola da gamba, & Janet Palumbo, harpsichord.) A Casa Discos in CD and mp3 format . 60 min, © 2007, $8.99. http://www.amazon.com/Boismortier-6-sonates-en-trio/dp/B000XQXBPM
When Tom Moore* and his Princeton-based former colleagues discover art, they don’t hang it in the library — they literally breathe life into it and then record it, making it available to anyone with access to the Internet. An ensemble dedicated to performing baroque music on period instruments, Le Triomphe de L’Amour recorded Six Trio Sonatas by the well-respected and prolific French composer, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier.
Born in 1689, just one year after François Couperin, Bosmortier spent much of his adult life working in Paris, where he published many pieces, including a pastorale, Daphnis et Chloé, Op. 109, composed for the Paris Opéra, cantatas, motets, and a great number of instrumental works — his favorite instrument being the transverse flute. Bathed in a rich artistic milieu, Bosmortier penned chamber works intended for enlightened amateur musicians, a lucrative occupation. And like the more celebrated composers of the day, Bosmortier’s music reflects the confluence of Corelli’s Italian style with the French idiom, yielding lovely results.
The ensemble’s choice of instruments — flutes carved from ebony, harpsichord, and bass viola da gamba — using a performance practice featuring substantially fewer ornaments than his contemporaries, reveals strands of unadorned beauty. With limitations on choice of key, colors are subdued and distinguished through slight contrasts in tessitura of two soprano voices that are gently propelled by the basso continuo. The sweetly understated voice of the viol, coupled with its maneuverability, probably account for the instrument’s persistence in Parisian chamber music. In fact, the French hung on to the ‘gamba as a solo instrument much longer than the Italians, who preferred the presence and more articulate violoncello. Yet the Italian influence is quite apparent. Jeanne Swack, who penned the notes for the CD, remarks, "“Of the six trios, the most overtly Corellian is the second.” The Sarabanda from Sonata No. 4 in G, where the gamba pizzicato mimics a guitar, serves as another example."
Boismortier straddled more than lines of nationality. With one foot firmly in the baroque, he seems to have explored the future. Prescient of Haydn, he spun out melodies from snippets, stitching them together into graceful musical phrases. Like two birds in flight, the flutists remain, at times, closely in parallel, then suddenly display bouts of playful imitation, as in the Allegro movement of the Sonata No. 2 in D. They sing with grace and invite the listener to dance, to join them for an evening of gaiety. Whether you prefer to do so or not, we know from history that the dance was a popular eighteenth century sport. And from that perspective, we feel a bit closer to the society in which Boismortier lived — this program is a living history lesson.
Listening to this recording is like taking a Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside in a Peugeot — there are few surprises. But the music is rendered with stylistic sensitivity, trills metronomically aligned, and in perfect balance. The ensemble plays like a group of long-time friends — what fine company! This CD deserves a favored place in your collection of baroque chamber music — right between Bach and Couperin.
*Moore is now Music Librarian at Duke University and — in his free time — a contributor to CVNC.