Ensemble Daimonion records Francoeur Violin Sonatas
The cover of this new release is a little misleading. It reproduces a historical painting of a woman bringing two drinks on a tray, water in one, presumably tea or coffee in the other. It’s a beautiful painting, don’t get me wrong, but the music contained within is far more rich and complex than two simple drinks.
François Francoeur was a peer to François Rebel, whom both made their careers in Paris. His years betray him as a purely “baroque” composer, although the pieces contained within this recording are clearly born from a late-baroque cloth. Francoeur isn’t a composer’s name you’re likely familiar, but for me, neither was the Ensemble Daemonion featuring violinist Anaïs Chen. The ensemble uses a fairly typical set up of cello and harpsichord for their basso continuo. The recording well captures the trio, with adequate reverb.
The style of the pieces seem as if they likely come from someone already familiar with Corelli. Yet, there’s something “more” there than a copy cat. The movement names are French, the movements go beyond the “sonata da chiesa” four, featuring four, five, or six movements. Like Leclair, he was in the business of being French but “speaking Italian” to those interested in Italian style.
The dotted rhythms used, however, have the true whiff of a Frenchman’s pen. Track 25, an Allemande from the ninth sonata, goes through some wonderfully typical but delicious harmonic sequences in a dotted rhythm that likely promotes foot tapping.
To my ear, the “Courante” in the sixth sonata reminds me another Frenchman’s attempts to speak Italian, François Couperin. Without criticizing Couperin, Francoeur’s language is less formulaic in terms of harmony, as a composer, he is perhaps for more focused on melody. The sonata’s closing movement, a “Rondeau” is an interesting little dance. The ensemble keeps it bouncy. In their hands everything sounds dancelike.
This release for me was a wonderful introduction to a young ensemble. Ms. Chen makes all the more challenging twists and turns sound natural and effortless. The ensemble together is a responsive ensemble, choosing, for me, quite sensible tempi and responding to the music with appropriate dynamic contrasts. Moreoever, this release was a great introduction to the composer’s second opus. I could use more from the ensemble and would also welcome more from the composer. Perhaps his 1720 collection?