Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hélène Plouffe, Chloe Meyers (vda); Sophie Larivière (fl); Mark Simons (chalumeau); David Jacques (lt, thb); Amanda Keesmaat (vc); Erin Helyard (hpd, org); Jacques-Olivier Chartier (ten); Olivier Laquerre (bbar)
ANALEKTA 29959 (71:36)
Trio Sonata in D.
Partita VII in d.
Trio Sonata in F.
St. John Passion:
“Betrachte, meine Seel”; “Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken.”
Ah, que l’amour.
Partita in F
The main purpose of this disc seems to be as a vehicle for Canadian violinist Hélène Plouffe to display in a variety of chamber works a viola d’amore once owned by Belgian composer Jean Rogister. It is a particularly plucky individual attempt, funded by the governments of Canada and the province of Quebec, to display the instrument and to find repertoire that is somewhat exotic. Plouffe succeeds in putting together a series of pieces that range from the oft-performed arias from Johann Sebastian Bach’s popular
St. John Passion
to exotic pieces by Louis-Toussaint Milandre, a French d’amore player from the middle of the 18th century and author of one of the few tutorials for the instrument; and Christoph Graupner (1682–1760), a composer who wrote numerous pieces for the instrument. The exoticism in the latter is the odd trio of d’amore, continuo, and a bass chalumeau, a sort of deep-throated lower clarinet ancestor. The final work by Christoph Petzold (1677–1733) gives the instrument an equal stature to Bach’s well-known suites for solo cello, though this series of dances omits a prelude.
The booklet notes are somewhat sketchy, mostly consisting of an artistic statement by Plouffe on why she chose the material and being rather shy on details and a bit long on personal reasons for doing the disc. Given that there are numerous recordings of the viola d’amore, mostly the concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Carl Stamitz, as well as several of the many pieces written by Graupner or Georg Philipp Telemann, it seems a bit forward to claim to “introduce” the instrument to her listeners. Performances of the Heinrich Biber Partita are still around, including one on Edel by Marianne Rônez and Monika Mauch, or on an earlier 1998 recording on Arion, and thus the works are not unknown, even though she decided to do her version a whole step higher in D Minor from the original’s C Minor, which she claims needed to be done to prevent her from having to “radically adjust” the instrument. While one can sense her wonder at the tone and “splendor” of the instrument, these notes can be a bit off-putting.
This being said, the main purpose of the disc is of course the music, and this grouping of pieces does indeed show off the instrument well. The use of sympathetic strings gives it an enhanced sonority that offers a number of nice overtone blends with other instruments that composers like to exploit occasionally. The Telemann trio sonata contrasts the flute and d’amore with ease, ranging from a close sonorous blend of sounds like organ stops in the initial Grave to a rollicking peasant gigue finale, replete with a folk bagpipe opening. I don’t actually find that the tessituras match all that well, but with Telemann, the part-writing is clever and craftsmanlike. This contrasts with Graupner, who uses a bass chalumeau to blend with the d’amore’s stacked overtones. Here, one finds that both instruments are entirely copasetic with each other, whether in the slow chords of the third movement or the nice
of the second. The Milandre is a test piece drawn from his treatise and is intended to show off the various lyrical possibilities of the instrument, while the Petzold offers multilayered dances that are stylized yet fraught with difficulty, such as the chords of the Gavotte or the pair of contrasting minuets.
The performances on the disc are all well done. Plouffe has indeed chosen musicians who are completely in tune with her performance style, which is also quite accurate from a performance-practice standpoint. It is difficult to differentiate her playing from her colleague Chloe Meyers in the Biber, and Mark Simon’s bass chalumeau has a wonderfully deep tone that blends well with the d’amore, as noted. Both Jacques-Olivier Chartier and Olivier Laquerre are right on pitch in their Bach arias, and in general all of the performers seem completely in sync with each other, which is the mark of a good ensemble. My only concern is that there seems to be a bit too much reverberation at times, particularly in the Petzold, which may be a result of microphone placement in the recording venue, but this is of minor consequence. If you are at all interested in unusual Baroque chamber music, and in the viola d’amore in particular, this disc offers something that is well done and interesting.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Works on This Recording
Ah que l'amour by Louis-Toussaint Milandre
Hélène Plouffe (Viola D'amore)
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