A French Soiree (CD review)

Trio Settecento:  Rachel Barton Pine, violin; John Mark Rozendaal, viola da gamba; David Schrader, harpsichord. Cedille CDR 900000 129.

I always enjoy any new recording from the Chicago-based Cedille label. Their artists invariably perform the music well, and their engineers record the music superbly, especially those discs made by their chief audio expert, Bill Maylone. This latest entry from Trio Settecento (Rachel Barton Pine, violin; John Mark Rozendaal, viola da gamba; David Schrader, harpsichord), called A French Soiree, is no exception.

My Random House Dictionary defines a "soiree" as "an evening party or social gathering, esp. one held for a particular purpose; e.g., a musical soiree." A French Soiree follows Trio Settecento's previous successes with Cedille, An Italian Sojourn and A German Bouquet (http://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2009/10/german-bouquet-cd-review.html) in providing more light Baroque music from across the globe. In coming releases as the Trio proceed through more European and perhaps world music, they may begin having trouble coming up with clever album titles, but it's a risk I'm willing to endure. Their playing is first-rate, and their discs sound superb.

As the title suggests, what we get here is a collection of short, light French works by seventeenth and early eighteenth-century composers like Lully, Couperin, Marais, Rebel, Rameau, and Leclair. Performed on period instruments in the most-elegant possible manner, the music close to irresistible.

The program begins with a series of divertissements, a suite of little chamber pieces featuring the music of three French composers: Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), Francois Couperin (1668-1733), and Marin Marais (1656-1728). The suite is just over twenty-nine minutes long and contains eleven tracks, all of them elegant and refined, both the music and the playing. Of course, the music is also fairly rich and flowery, so the Trio's use of instruments suited to the period helps in bringing out the vibrant, resonant tone of the pieces.

Next, we get Couperin's Troisieme Concert, six brief dance movements. The Trio handle them imaginatively, presenting them in lively yet courtly fashion.

Following the Couperin is the Sonate Huitieme en Re mineur by Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747), probably the least known composer on the program. However, it is his piece that stands out as the most unique of the bunch for its combination of ruggedness, grace, and lilting melodies.

The program ends with the Quatrieme Concert by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1783-1764) and the Sonata en Sol majeur by Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764). Like the other works on the disc, the music impresses one with its civility and urbaneness, the performances with their culture and polish.

If I have any reservation at all, it's that I don't find the music of the French Baroque composers as varied or as tuneful as that of their Italian and German counterparts. Thus, I probably didn't appreciate this album as much as I liked the Trio Settecento's previous releases. No fault of theirs.

Cedille recorded the program in Nichols Concert Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago, Evanston, Illinois, in August of 2010. They obtained typically audiophile results, although the sonics seem a bit closer than usual. Not many record companies are producing this kind of high-fidelity response anymore, Cedille, certainly, and Reference Recordings, but precious few others.

Anyway, here we get truthful presentations of all three instruments, with extraordinary definition and detail, the instruments themselves meshing nicely and providing a satisfyingly unified sound. Be sure to experiment for a moment to get the volume just right, though, for optimum realism. Too soft and it will appear a bit dull; too loud and it will appear a tad bright. At its prime output, however, it should sound as lifelike as you'll likely hear anywhere outside a concert stage.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa