Marchand Suites oh trio Aparte AP301

Joseph Marchand (1673-1747)
Première Suite in A
Deuxième Suite in B
Troisième Suite in C
Quatrième Suite in D
Cinquième Suite in E
Sixième Suite in F
Septième Suite in G
{oh!} trio
rec. 2020 & 2021, Church of St. John, Mikołów, Poland
Aparté AP301 [157]

If one encounters the name of Marchand, one immediately thinks of Louis Marchand, the French composer who has become known for his keyboard music. The frontispiece of this disc may confirm that connection; Marchand composed two suites for harpsichord and two for organ. However, these suites are performed by a trio. A closer look at what this set of two discs is about, reveals that we have to do here with a different Marchand. This was a pretty common name in France, and therefore it is not surprising that Joseph seems not in any way to be related to his more famous namesake.

He is mentioned in books on the history of violin music, but has no entry in New Grove, and this recording may well be the very first of his music. On the title-page of his suites, his first name is not mentioned, only ‘Monsieur Marchand, Le Fils’. He was born into a family of violinists, but he himself learnt to play the basse de violon, which he played at the Chapelle Royale and the Petits Violons, then with the Grande Bande. Both he and his father played in the Musique de la Chambre du Roi from 1717 to 1730 and after that he played with his son in many concerts at the court. His close connections to the court are expressed in the title of his suites for violin performed here. Suites de pièces mêlée de sonates pour le violon et la basse, qui ont étées exécutez plusieurs fois devant sa Majesté, dédiez au Roy, composées par Monsieur Marchand, Le Fils, Officier ordinaire de la Musique de la Chapelle et Chambre du Roy. These were printed in 1707.

The year of publication indicates that it was one of the first collections of music for the violin published in France. Marchand can be ranked among the first generation of French violin composers, alongside Jean-Baptiste Anet, the Francoeur brothers (Louis and François), Jean-Féry Rebel and Jean-Baptiste Sénaillé. For most of the 17th century, the violin played a marginal role in France, where it was mainly used in dance music and was part of the (opera) orchestra. It was only in the last decade of the century that the increasing openness towards the Italian style resulted in the instrument’s rise in status. After the turn of the century, when the Italian style was more and more accepted and even embraced by composers, performers became acquainted with the techniques that had already established itself elsewhere in Europe, not only in Italy, but also in Germany, Bohemia and Austria. Among them was double stopping, the technique of playing two notes simultaneously. This technique is used by Marchand in his suites.

These pieces are notable for their unusual complexion. The set consists of seven suites of different length. The second and third are the shortest, each taking a little over 15 minutes. The former comprises seven movements, the latter five. The longest are the last two, each of which lasts around 30 minutes, and comprise nine and eight movements respectively. The title-page quoted above refers to “suites mixed with sonatas”. Five of the seven suites open with a sonata, which consists of different sections. The use of the word sonate is not very consistent in France at the time. The positioning of movements of this title at the start of a suite is reminiscent of François Couperin’s Les Nations, which also open with a multisection movement entitled sonata. The Première Suite opens with a fantasie, which is followed by a very short sonate. Most of the other movements are dances, such as allemande, gavotte and sarabande. A number of movements have the title of air, there are some rondeaux, a few fugues and – as one may expect – a couple of chaconnes.

Martyna Pastuszka (violin), Krzysztof Firlus (viola da gamba) and Anna Firlus (harpsichord) have taken quite some liberties, as the former explains in an interview in the booklet. For a start, the role of the viola da gamba, performing the bass line, is more prominent than one may expect. That is partly due to the fact that the bass line is written in a high tessitura; in some cases it moves in the same range as the violin. Often the viol is the main bass instrument, and the harpsichord takes a back seat. As I have no access to the scores, I could not check whether there are passages which suggest an obbligato role of the bass viol, as we find them in the violin sonatas by Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre. In two suites, the basso continuo is enriched by a lute. In a few movements, the harpsichord is replaced by an organ. This may be the most debatable decision. Small organs played a role in the performance of instrumental music in Italy, but it is questionable whether that was the case in France. After the publication of these suites, they may have been played in the salons of the higher echelons of society, and it is very unlikely that they had such instruments at their disposal. The performers also decided to change the line-up within single suites. Some movements are played as harpsichord solos. This seems to have been a common practice; François Couperin states that he played his instrumental music on the harpsichord with members of his family and pupils. However, I wonder whether this justifies changes in the line-up within single suites. I also feel that it results in a lack of coherence, but that may be a matter of taste. Lastly, in a few movements the violin is replaced by a dessus de viole; these suites are suitable for this instrument, which was common at the time. However, again, I can’t see any reason to employ it here. The differentiation in the line-up may be inspired by the length of many suites, which is remarkable indeed.

This set of suites is quite intriguing, and it is remarkable that it has taken so long to be recorded. These pieces are of fine quality, and I am sure every lover of the baroque violin will enjoy them. They also shed light on the early stage of violin playing in France, which is not that well-known. So far, Jacquet de La Guerre and Rebel are virtually the only two representatives of this stage whose music is receiving serious attention. It is to be hoped that these suites by Marchand will become available in modern editions, which allows them to become part of the repertoire of violinists. They certainly deserve to be.

Despite some critical remarks about the way they are performed, I am quite happy with this production. All three artists are outstanding performers, and they deserve praise for bringing these works to our attention, and in such an engaging manner.

Johan van Veen

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