DEVIENNE Six Trios for Bassoon, Violin, and Cello, Op. 17. Les Visitandines: Airs and Trio (arr. Lussier1) • Mathieu Lussier (bsn); Pascale Giguère (vn); Benoit Loiselle (vc); 1Jean-Louis Blouin (va) (period instruments) • ATMA 2583 (64:54)
Before receiving this CD, I had never even heardRead more of François Devienne (1759–1803). Rashly assuming that a few readers of this magazine may still linger in a similarly parlous state of musicological ignorance, I thought to open this review with a biographical essay to remedy that situation. Lo and behold, Michael Carter beat me to the punch all the way back in 25:5, with a model review of two quartets by Devienne for bassoon and strings that anyone interested in the composer should read at the first opportunity. I will nevertheless supplement the information Carter has provided.
Born in Joinville, Devienne made his career in Paris, beginning with becoming last-chair bassoonist at the Paris Opéra in 1779 and working his way upwards. He married sometime between 1789 and 1792 and sired five children. In 1794 he published the manual of modern flute-performance technique that remains his greatest claim to fame, the Nouvelle méthode théorique et pratique pour la flute. His renown as the finest bassoonist and flautist of his time was so great that a celebrated portrait was painted by a member of the studio of Jacques-Louis David (for many years the painting was attributed to David himself). Sadly, shortly after 1800 he became prey to mental illness, and his days ended prematurely in the famed Charenton lunatic asylum (a fellow inmate was the Marquis de Sade). A prolific composer, his output includes 12 stage works, 49 romances, 147 duos, 46 trios, 25 quartets, 12 flute concertos, and several sinfonia concertantes. He scored a considerable success in 1792 with his opéra-comique, Les Visitandines.
Trolling through previous reviews of recordings of Devienne’s music in the Fanfare Archive, I found estimations of his musical worth all over the map, ranging from “masterful” and “inventive” to “routine” and “trite.” Perhaps he was indeed a composer of wildly uneven inspiration; but, based on the evidence of this disc, the former and not the latter pair of adjectives applies, and his sobriquet of “the Parisian Mozart” is far less hyperbolic than might initially appear. This is splendid, thoroughly charming music of almost Haydnesque invention, wit, and humor, with quasi-Mozartean melodic lines that by turns are graceful and beguiling or bouncing and bubbly, studded with unexpected but clever little turns that continually maintain the listener’s attention and interest. While all sunny in disposition, every one of the trios—each consisting of two movements, variously cast in binary, rondo, or early sonatas forms—has a distinctive character, a great rarity among composers not of the first-rank.
All the works on this release except for one of the three arias from Les Visitandines (arranged here for the trio plus viola, with the bassoon taking the solo vocal line) are receiving their world premiere recordings. The long wait until now has been the music world’s loss; thankfully, they could not be in better hands. All four musicians are members of the noted baroque ensemble Les Violins du Roy and play superbly in both technical and interpretive dimensions. Bassoonist Mathieu Lussier, who perforce has pride of place, is absolutely exquisite; were I not already happily married, I might well be sending a matrimonial proposal to his instrument, so enchanting is its sound. As it is, I will just have to settle for short-listing this disc for my 2013 Want List. Anyone who doesn’t want to acquire this release should be examined for possible candidacy to occupy a room in Devienne’s asylum; this has my highest recommendation.