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Nicolas CHÉDEVILLE (1705-1782)
Les Saisons Amusantes
Concerto in C Le Printems [9:02]
Concerto in C Les Plaisirs de l'Été [9:13]
Concerto in g minor La Moisson [8:40]
Concerto in G L'Automne [9:30]
Concerto in C Les Plaisirs de St. Martin [7:38]
Concerto in c minor L'Hiver [7:38]
Ensemble Danguy/Tobie Miller
rec. 2018, Église Notre-Dame, Centeilles, France
RICERCAR RIC398 [51:45]

Have you ever heard a hurdy-gurdy live on the stage? Probably not, unless you have attended concerts with medieval music. That was the time when this instrument was frequently used. But at the end of the Middle Ages it fell out of fashion, "passing into the hands of the blind and of beggars, scoundrels, and rogues", and it "acquired an unsavoury reputation that would long remain current", as Michel Lemeu writes in his liner notes to this recording.

Ironically, it is exactly the association with the lower classes which made it popular among the higher echelons of society in mid-18th century France. They were fascinated by the life in the countryside, the simple life of peasants, reflecting the ideal world of Arcadia. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's opera Le Devin du village is one of the expressions. Members of the aristocracy started to play the hurdy-gurdy, as well as the musette, another instrument associated with rural life.

The liner notes include some information about the technical aspects of the hurdy-gurdy. It seems useful to summarize it here. The hurdy-gurdy's sound is created by a rosined wheel that rubs against the strings brought into contact with it. The wheel, turned by a handle in the player's right hand, produces the equivalent of an endless bow stroke. The melody strings or chanterelles are made to sound by a keyboard. The keys, depressed by the left hand, place small pieces of wood called tangents against the strings. The tangents change the sounding length of the string and thereby the pitch of the note, in the same manner as when a violinist's finger presses the string against the violin's fingerboard. The drone strings allow a continuous accompaniment of the melody on one of the fundamental notes of the scale: this is usually the octave, but it can also be the fourth or the fifth. An asymmetrical bridge in the shape of a dog is placed under the trompette, the highest pitched of the drone strings. It seems to rest on its hind legs and its front paws strike the sound board each time the player turns the handle. This creates a percussive effect which allows the player to articulate the musical line.

The popularity of the hurdy-gurdy resulted in a large number of compositions. The liner notes refer to more than 300 pieces written in a period of about fifty years. On her debut disc (review), Tobie Miller presented virtuosic pieces by composers who today are barely known, such as Jean-Baptiste Dupuits, Charles Bâton and a certain Monsieur Ravet, all virtuosos on the instrument themselves. The music recorded here is a bit different, as the title says. Nicolas Chédeville published a set of concertos intended for pure musical entertainment.

Chédeville was born into a musical family related to one of France's most extended and famous musical dynasties, the Hotteterres. From the early 1720s until 1748, Nicolas was a member of the orchestra of the Paris opera as a player of the oboe and the musette. He also acted as a teacher of the musette. His compositions, the first of which were printed in 1729, were mainly written for amateurs playing for their own entertainment. This is reflected in the titles of many of his collections of music, which often contain the word amusement or amusantes.

Chédeville not only composed music, he also arranged music by other composers. During the 1730s he became especially interested in Italian music. In 1739 the publisher Jean-Noël Marchand printed a collection of sonatas under the title Il pastor fido opus 13, apparently by Antonio Vivaldi. But in 1749 he revealed that Chédeville was the real composer. As the musette is among the instruments mentioned in this collection, it is suggested this was an attempt to increase the status of the musette as a serious instrument.

In 1739 Chédeville was granted the privilege to print his arrangements of music by Italian composers. But only two such collections are known, the Sonatas opus 4 by Evaristo Felice dall'Abaco and the six concertos by Vivaldi recorded here. Vivaldi was one of the most famous composers of his time. Since the publication of the collection Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione op. 8 in Amsterdam in 1725, which include the Four Seasons, these concertos were among his most popular works, regularly performed as part of the public concerts of the Concerts Spirituels. A French edition came from the press in 1739.

These arrangements are no direct transcriptions of the four concertos which are known as the Four Seasons. Only the first of the series, Spring, is arranged in its entirety. The concerto Chédeville called L'Automne is an arrangement of several movements from Vivaldi's Concertos 3 and 4 (Autumn and Winter respectively). The other four concertos are arrangements of (movements of) other concertos from the opus 8 collection. The second concerto, called Les Plaisirs de l'Été (The Pleasures of the Summer), for instance, is an arrangement of movements from Vivaldi's Concertos 10 and 12; the title tells something about Chédeville's objective. Whereas Vivaldi also pays attention to the dark sides of the seasons – like the heat of the summer – Chédeville concentrates entirely on the happy side.

In addition to the four seasons, Chédeville completes the set – to make it six, as was common practice at the time – with two concertos, called La Moisson (The Harvest) and Les Plaisirs de Saint-Martin. Saint Martin's day, also known as the Feast of Saint Martin or Martinmas, is the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, celebrated on 11 November. This is the time when autumn wheat seeding has been completed. For the latter concerto, Chédeville turned to Vivaldi's sixth concerto from the Op. 8, called Il Piacere (Pleasure).

This set has been recorded before; in fact, several recordings are on the market, but this recording is the best I have heard. Tobie Miller is a real virtuoso, who seems to have no limitations. She fully explores the capabilities of her instrument, for instance in her articulation and the dynamic shading. Her colleagues in the Ensemble Danguy also considerably contribute to the impression of this disc. Vivaldi lovers will be attracted to this disc, but not only they: this disc is perfectly suited to cheer you up on a dull day.

Johan van Veen


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