Enchanté, M. Mondonville

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

There’s not a lot that needs to be said about these trio sonatas from 1734: if you enjoy Baroque chamber music for violins and continuo (cello and harpsichord), occasionally joined by flute, you will discover on this program an 18th-century French composer who was writing some very good stuff, first-rate compositions–in the form of these six sonatas, on what claims to be a world-premiere recording–that you will be happy to place alongside your Bach and Handel and Telemann and Vivaldi.

All but one of the sonatas are structured in sonata da chiesa (slow-fast-slow…) form in four movements; a distinguishing feature is the demand for numerous double-stops in the violin parts of three of the sonatas, while in the other three Mondonville eliminated double stops so the second violin part could be played by flute (flute is used here in Sonatas Nos. 3 and 5). Particularly exciting are the second-movement allegro fugues in each sonata, perhaps most notably the one in B-flat (No. 2).

But there’s no shortage of excitement throughout, thanks not only to the taut and tuneful and technically challenging music but to the impressive music-making by this quintet of highly accomplished musicians and their perfectly matched baroque instruments. The playing is finely articulated, the phrasing facile, and the tempos rightly judged, all infused with an enlivening energy and sense of style that comes not just from each player knowing the music well, but from a well-practiced and understood ensemble sensibility. And the fun isn’t just in the fast movements: in just one example, the “Largo sempre piano” in No. 6 is simple and lovingly played with each player carefully sustaining the tempo and textural/harmonic balance over nearly three-and-a-half minutes.

The recording places us in an ideal seat in front of the group in a perfectly-suited acoustic, which turns out to be the beautiful music library at the famed Royaumont Abbey north of Paris. Listening to this, getting to know something of the name and music of Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (c.1711-1772), was a delight–and a pleasant surprise–from beginning to end, and at each of several repeat hearings. This Ensemble Diderot has several other very fine recordings of Baroque trio sonata repertoire for this same label, notably another “world-premiere” of works by 17th-century German composer Johann Friedrich Meister, “Il giardino del piacere”, and another with sonatas by Handel and Telemann, but also including lesser-known pieces by Fasch, Fux, and the Czech composer František Tuma. This is a group, led by founder/violinist Johannes Pramsohler, whose engaging, unusual programs and expert performances are well worth knowing.

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