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François CHAUVON (fl 1710 - 1740)
Les nouveaux bijoux
11e Suite [8:22]
3e Suite [7:57]
5e Suite [7:24]
1e Suite [10:15]
4e Suite [9:31]
10e Suite [9:40]
9e Suite [7:46]
2e Suite [7:28]
Alison Melville (recorder, transverse flute), Washington McClain (oboe), Julia Wedman (violin), Michael McCraw (bassoon), Charlotte Nediger (harpsichord)
rec. 25 - 27 July 2011, St Thomas's Anglican Church, Toronto, Canada. DDD

It is quite likely that you have never heard of François Chauvon before. Very little is known about him; in New Grove two short paragraphs are enough to recount everything that is known. He was an oboist by profession and a pupil of François Couperin. In his liner-notes Tom Owens is unable to add anything to what is mentioned there. His information about the music is useful, but unfortunately he refers to the suites with their keys, whereas the track-list omits them. That makes it rather hard to know exactly which suite he is referring to at any one time.
Chauvon's oeuvre is small: it comprises some vocal works, including cantatas and divertissements, as well as some chamber music. The collection from which the suites on this disc are taken, was published under the title of Tibiades in 1717. It was dedicated to his teacher Couperin. He specified the collection as including a "new genre of pieces for flute, oboe, with several sonatas for violin". He didn't specify exactly which instruments had to play which piece.
Most suites include some dances and various character pieces. The latter were especially popular in France at the time, and Couperin included many of them in his harpsichord suites. It is not always clear what they refer to. Some may be musical portraits of colleagues of Chauvon, such as Dornel (9e Suite), or other personalities, for instance 'la Maréchale de Villars' (4e Suite). There are character descriptions, like 'la Follette' which can refer either to a foolish person or a capricious character. Other descriptions are 'les tourbillons' (whirlwinds), 'le rouët' (spinning wheel) or a specific state of mind, such as 'la Mélancolique'. Many titles don't appear in my dictionary; maybe some words have fallen into disuse and can only be found in an historical dictionary. It is not always easy to see the connection between a description and the music either.
As Chauvon gives hardly any indication in regard to performance practice the artists have followed the habits of the time which can be deduced from the title pages of other publications. This means that in most suites the various movements are allocated to different instruments, sometimes solo, sometimes in combinations of two or three. In the 11e Suite which opens this disc, for instance, the prélude is played by oboe, bassoon and harpsichord. The bassoon plays mostly the bass line, but also takes a solo role in two passages. The next movement, allemande la St. Vallier, is played by the violin, the following courante la Duché by the oboe. La Samaritaine is then performed at the transverse flute, with the violin playing the basso continuo; the harpsichord keeps silent. In the closing chaconne en rondeau flute, violin and oboe play together, with bassoon and harpsichord in the basso continuo. The number of instruments can also vary within a single movement, creating a contrast between 'solo' and 'tutti'. Three suites are allocated to a single instrument: the oboe plays the 3e Suite, with bassoon and harpsichord, the recorder takes the 4e Suite and the violin the 9e Suite, both with the harpsichord alone. In one movement the harpsichord plays solo, the arpégement le Pièche from the 5e Suite.
The result is a very colourful bouquet of instrumental music. Chauvon may be hardly-known, his music is well worth to be brought to our attention. We can only be grateful to the artists for doing so, and delivering such fine performances. Whereas Julia Wedman is still in the early stages of her career, the others are seasoned performers. All of them are more or less closely associated with the Canadian Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. They are on the same wavelength, and they not only deliver good performances individually, but the ensemble is also excellent.
As the title promises, these suites are jewels indeed. Anyone who likes French baroque music will be delighted to have this disc in his collection.
Johan van Veen