The music of Jean-Joseph de Mondonville, an immediate successor to Rameau and one of the most prominent members of the Parisian musical scene in the middle 18th century, has not been recorded often. He composed in the major genres of the day, including opera, grand motet, and trio sonata, but the odd little sacred motets featured on this album stand aside from all of these. They are designated Pièces de clavecin avec voix ou violin (Harpsichord pieces with voice or violin), and indeed the situation is even more complicated than that title would indicate. They are uniquely designed with the harpsichord part being most important, then the voice, and then an optional violin part; the vocal part can also be played on a violin, or, in dire circumstances, omitted entirely. This setup lacks the complex coherence of a mature work by Rameau or Bach, but the music is certainly of interest to students of French musical culture: it's not like anything else out there, and the circumstances surrounding the music are also intriguing. Mondonville might have written them for his virtuoso-vocalist wife. The vocal line alternates between French declamation and Italian melodicism. The album is closed out with an elegant little violin sonata that is designated a harpsichord piece with violin accompaniment but is actually quite a bit closer to the Italian sonata model. The biggest obstacle for some listeners may be the reedy, vibrato-stingy voice of soprano Shannon Mercer; sample it before committing funds. The active Canadian harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour is quite commanding in the tough harpsichord parts.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Pièces de clavecin avec voix ou violon, Op. 5|
|Sonata No. 4 in C major (from Pièces de clavecin en sonates avec accompagnement de violin, Op. 3)|