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Joseph Bodin de BOISMORTIER (1689 - 1755)
Ballets de Village
Le Concert Spirituel
Hervé Niquet

Le Concert Spirituel/Niquet
Recorded Paris. 8 - 10 Sept 1997 DDD
Naxos 8.554295 [74'45".]

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Images of foggy London streets of the late eighteen hundreds usually follow any use of the word hurdy-gurdy - used in its wrong sense of a barrel-organ, that is. On this CD of French music of the 1730's the true instrument but under its proper name of vielle à roue is heard along with a musette and an ensemble of violins, oboes, flutes, recorders, cellos, bass, bassoon, harpsichord and organ. The true hurdy-gurdy we hear is a string instrument with a cranked wheel providing a substitute bowing action. All the strings resonate at once and give a bagpipe-like drone. The musette was nearer to a bagpipe and its drone was bellows driven. Both of these now almost unknown instruments had long histories and even after centuries of considerable hi-tech refinement for the age were difficult to play and articulate properly. They were generally regarded as for the rustics, even though people like Rameau and Lully used them in their operas and, in the case of the vielle, in an instrumental repertoire that included duos and concertos.

The music itself here is by Boismortier, a man who did well from writing and publishing popular, unchallenging music that appealed to his potential public but made so much money from doing so that inevitably his rivals became jealous at just how easy he seemed to find it. It certainly still has an appeal. There is much to tap the feet to and to enjoy from a set of pieces with an undoubted rusticity to them yet with enough sophistication to interest the better off of the time who could read music, and more importantly from the composers viewpoint, could afford to buy it.

Boismortier's four Ballets de Village - there is no ballet element in them at all - are in sections and each of them allows the members of the group to have his turn to shine. A reminder here of Jazz Sunday evenings in Liverpool's Picton Hall of the 50's when convention and tradition decreed that everyone had a solo - even the double-bass player - to everyone's delight. All great fun and the enjoyment comes over on the disc. Le Concert Spirituel - on modern instruments - is a first class ensemble and a good, clear, close recording makes a good combination.

The three movement Cinquième gentillesse - two quick, one slow - shows the very distinctive sounds the musette and vielle make and their value in an ensemble. The parts were written into the original score, not added on one of today's whims. The other long work on the recording along with the Four Ballets is the Première Sérénade written in eighteen sections. These are mainly dances - Gavotte, Sarabande, Gigue are included. In the brief movements one noted some excellent harpsichord support in Air gracieux, a rapid fire Rigaudon (with some fine wind playing), a charming Sarabande for recorders and bass, bassoon and oboe in a lively Gigue.

I thoroughly enjoyed this disc. Music fresh to me, very well played, nothing too intellectual to cause sleepless nights and all without leaving the house. Can't be bad.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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