László Rózsa, Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica VM 017. 62’22
The CD notes open with a quote from Laurence Sterne’s ‘A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy’ (London, 1768): “Tis going, I own, like the Knight of the Woeful Countenance in quest of melancholy adventures. But I know not how it is, but I am never so perfectly conscious of the existence of a soul within me, as when I am entangled in them“. It helps to describe the mood of the music on the recording, which focusses on the more intimate, delicate and sensuous music of the often flamboyant and dramatic of the French Baroque courts from the time of Louix XIV onwards into the mid-17th-century. It was period of change for French music, as the influence of Italy slowly began to make itself felt, particularly after the death of Lully, whose dominance of the French music scene had stifled any imported musical ideas.
The seven composers represent both the traditional French style, the Italian-influenced style, and the ultimate fusion of styles championed by the likes of François Couperin. Although the seven pieces aren’t arranged in chronological order, or in order of the Italian influence, the programme makes for a coherent whole. As well as the pieces for recorder and continuo, there are two instrumental solos, with Jonathan Rees playing Saint-Colombe’s Suite in D minor on solo viola da gamba and Alex McCartney playing Robert de Visée’s Suite in G on theorbo.
Of the pieces for recorder, the Sonata No 4 in C minor by Charles Buterne is particularly interested, not least because I had never heard of him. Published in 1745 it is a very late example of the mature Baroque style as it merged with the Gallant. It is also a late example of music composed specifically for the recorder, by then well past its prime as a solo or orchestral instrument. The Hotteterre Suite No 3 in G seems to lack an introductory Prelude, so László Rózsa provides one of his own before the start of the Allemande.
The recording was made in the church of St Mary’s Church in Walthamstow. Although the acoustic is probably slightly livelier than that of the chambers in which the music was originally performed, it works well. The volume of the recorder is well balanced against the supporting continuo players. My only minor quibble is that László Rózsa’s rather expressive manner of playing the recorders can give a slight feeling of pitch instability as his breathing impart an occasional vibrato. He doesn’t mention this as a deliberate performance factor, but does refer in the notes to a quotation from Jean Rousseau (1678) about the difference between Mesure and Mouvement, the implication being a rhythmic flexibility within an overall pulse. This notion of notes inégales is, of course, a hallmark of French music of this period, and of several other earlier genres, notably Spain.