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Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE (1674-1763)
Complete Chamber Music - Volume 3
Camerata Köln
rec. 2012-15, Chamber Music Hall of Deutschlandfunk, Cologne, Germany
CPO 555 038-2 [2.13:51]

This twofer seems to be the last volume of a project concerning the recording of the complete chamber music by Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, one of the main French composers from the first half of the 18th century. Hotteterre was a member of one of the largest musical dynasties of France, which one could compare with the Bach family in Germany.

In New Grove the article on the Hotteterre family lists thirteen names of family members who were active as woodwind instrument makers, players and composers. The last of them died in 1801 and brought the activities of the Hotteterre workshop to a close. Jacques-Martin was the most famous of his family and by the end of his life had attained a high social status. A daughter married the organist Claude-Bénigne Balbastre. From 1698 to 1700 he stayed in Rome, and since then he added le Romain to his name. Here the foundation of his interest in Italian music was laid, and that is reflected in his music library which included sonatas by Corelli and Mascitti. Also part of that collection were operas by Lully and Destouches, pieces for viola da gamba by Marais and cantatas by the likes of Campra and Clérambault.

In Hotteterre's oeuvre four different features of French music of his time come together. Firstly, as his nickname indicates, Hotteterre incorporated elements of the Italian style in his oeuvre. That reflects the increasing popularity of Italian music in France since the turn of the century. It also comes to the fore in the chamber cantatas by the likes of Clérambault, and in the instrumental music of François Couperin.

The second element is that chamber music was mostly intended for amateurs. The transverse flute developed into the most popular instrument among them, and as a result many collections of pieces for the flute came from the press. Most of Hotteterre's music was intended first and foremost for the flute. However, in order to increase sales, composers usually offered alternative scorings on the title pages, such as the recorder, the oboe, the violin and the viola da gamba, as well as the musette, an instrument which was becoming very popular during the first half of the 18th century. That is the case with Hotteterre's chamber music as well.

The importance of amateurs as purchasers of printed editions of chamber music inspired composers to include arrangements of popular songs, known as brunettes. Three are included here. Lastly, amateurs needed to be instructed in the playing of their instrument. This explains the publication of many treatises in the course of the 18th century. One of the first was Hotteterre's Principes de la flûte traversière, which has been preserved in a reprint from 1707, which was followed by L'art de préluder (reprint: 1719). The latter includes a number of preludes which are played here on the recorder. The instruction of amateur players also reflects the ideals of the Enlightenment.

The fact that Hotteterre offered performers various possibilities as far as the instrumental scoring is concerned, has resulted in much variety in the line-up in this production. Not only are the sonatas and suites played on different instruments, but sometimes the line-up changes within a piece. It goes too far to say that this is against the wishes of the composer, but I find it rather unsatisfactory. I also wonder whether this is in line with performance practice among amateurs at the time. One example is the Suite op.4: the first five movements are played on two recorders, but the closing passacaille is performed on two violas da gamba. The use of the bass viola da gamba in some of the pieces - the Suites op.4 & 6 and the Sonate à deux dessus in e minor (an arrangement of a work by the English/Italian composer Roberto Valentine) - is questionable, considering that Hotteterre refers to treble instruments. The use of a discant viol - pardessus de viole - seems a much more logical option. The bass viol seems a legitimate option in the Suite/Sonata op. 5,4, as here Hotteterre's title page mentions the transverse flute "and other instruments", without any specification of their pitch.

The oeuvre of Hotteterre is rather unorganized and there is no catalogue. Therefore I am not sure whether these three volumes include all the extant works. In the first paragraph I stated that this seems to be the concluding volume. That may well be confirmed by the fact that the Suite Op. 8 was also part of Volume 2. That it inself is rather odd, but that would not have been the case if other pieces would have been waiting to be recorded. Those who own Volume 2 of this series may have wished that the Suite Op. 8 would at least have been played in a different line-up, but that is not the case.

This volume confirms my basically positive impressions of this project. Camerata Köln is a fine ensemble which delivers solid and often really good and enjoyable performances. That said, the interpretation is not always very imaginative, and is often rather restrained. Those who have purchased the first two volumes, should not hesitate to add this Volume 3 to their collection. At the same time, it may be recommendable to look for alternative recordings, which are more consistent in the scoring of the various pieces and offer more extroverted interpretations.

The documentation leaves something to be desired. There is no mention of the pitch (likely a'=392 Hz), the instruments played here are not specified, and neither the keys of the preludes Op.7 nor the original keys of the transposed pieces are mentioned.

Johan van Veen

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