Les Dominos / Florence Malgoire

François Couperin: Complete Sonatas

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The sonata is one of the most common of all musical genres, but in France toward the end of the 17th century, with Italian styles still in official disfavor, it was barely even possible to write one. Composers were fascinated, however, by the new breezes blowing from Italy, and François Couperin began to write "sonades" even though he never published them. He later claimed to have written the first French sonatas. The seven works here are odd fusions of French and Italian styles, and they are beautifully animated by the French historical-instrument group Les Dominos and its leader, violinist Florence Malgoire. Three works, La Steinquerque (track 3), L'Astrée (track 5), and La Visionnaire (track 7), approximate the texture of the Italian trio sonata, with paired instruments over a continuo, but the rest have two pairs of solo instruments and mix the concertante or contrast principle with other kinds of ensemble writing. The movement structure is purely French, with sequences of very short movements that carry some kind of programmatic content. These were, for their time and place, rather experimental works, but their genius is that they have a relaxed ebb and flow in spite of that; they are loose in structure and have a sense of discovery of fresh textures. Malgoire and Les Dominos get the loose-limbed spirit of the music, offering textures in which the bass viol of Guido Balestracci is almost an equal partner with the violins and/or flutes above. The ensemble playing of this new group is exceptional, and one awaits with interest any move they might make toward repertoire beyond the French 17th century.

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