Mondonville: Trio Sonatas Op 2 (1734)
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
Audax Records ADX13707. 67’22
Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (1711-1772) was born in the south-west of France to an aristocratic family whose fortune was in decline. He moved to Paris in 1733 and almost immediately published a volume of violin Sonatas. He initially came under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour and also joined the Concert Spirituel and, later, the Chapelle royale. The first of his 17 grands motets was performed at around the same time. In 1734, this Opus 2 set of six Trio Sonatas was published. The quality and technical virtuosity of the writing for the two violins says a lot about his own abilities as a violinist. Extensive use of double stops for both players are just the start of it.
Mondonville was composing at an interesting period of French music, and particularly of violin music, which had hitherto not achieved the technical standards of Italian or German violinists. The programme notes mention an example of this, when the Duke of Orleans had to have Corelli’s solo violin sonatas played by three musicians because no violinists in Paris had the skill to play the pieces, with their complex double-stopping, on their own. The technical complexity of these Mondonville trio sonatas indicates that the proficiency of Parisian violinists had greatly improved by the 1730s.
Musically, this was also a period where the contrasting French and Italian styles began to merge, the Italian soon taking precedence over the French. These sonatas are very much in the Italian style of Corelli, their standard four movement structure including a wide variety of musical styles. For three of the sonatas, Mondonville gave the option of using a flute for the highest of the two instruments, something Ensemble Diderot have done here for Sonatas 3 and 5, with flautist Kristen Huebner joining the line-up.
Ensemble Diderot are ideal ambassadors for this first recording of Mondonville’s Sonatas. In the trio sonata, rather than the violin concerto idiom of their earlier CD (of Montanari concertos, reviewed here), the focus falls on the whole ensemble, rather than just their leader. They are Kristen Huebner, flute, Johannes Pramsohler & Roldán Bernabé, violins, Gulrim Choi, cello, and Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord, all outstanding musicians. As in Ensemble Diderot’s previous recordings, their playing is exhilarating, stylistically and musically appropriate, well-balanced and with that touch of individuality that marks out great music performance. The recording quality is excellent, the acoustics of the Royaumont Abbey music library adding an attractive bloom to the sound.