BarrocoTout - de Croes: La Sonate Égarée - Fanfare

Here is a rarity. Henri-Jacques de Croes has appeared in Fanfare only once before, way back in 1983 when George Chien reviewed an LP that contained a Divertimento by de Croes and a pair of symphonies by Pierre van Maldere. (Both composers were associated with Brussels.) De Croes’s dates are 1705–1786, which means that he was a contemporary of both Leopold Mozart and his slightly more famous son. De Croes’s writing makes Leopold’s—to say nothing of Wolfgang Amadeus’s—compositions sound strikingly modern, but that does not diminish their quality and the craftsmanship displayed therein. These works are not dull. Speaking of the Mozart, Henri-Jacques should not be confused with his equally musical son Henri-Joseph, although he is scarcely more familiar than his father.

The title of this disc alludes not to trio sonatas but to “La sonate égarée,” which means that these sonatas were lost, except for a copy located in the music library at the University of Virginia. However, they were not totally lost, as three of these sonatas already had been published in the composer’s op. 1 collection of sonatas. Because the op. 1 collection is almost as obscure—has it been recorded? I do not see evidence of it—listeners probably will not be bothered or even aware of the duplication.

What is the explanation for de Croes’s conservative style? Don’t blame his employer. Linn’s booklet contains a generous biographical note by Miel Pieters, who explains that de Croes was maître de chapelle for Charles of Lorraine, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands. Charles’s musical tastes were more progressive than those of his successor, so de Croes was encouraged to move away from the Baroque style in favor of the more modern style galant. One explanation for de Croes’s style appears to have been his association with Brussels, which was not a hub of musical innovation during the 1700s. (That said, Italian influences can be heard in these trio sonatas.) Furthermore, he does not appear to have traveled extensively. On the other hand, Henri-Joseph eventually secured a position in Regensburg with the house of Thurn and Taxis, where there was an excellent orchestra, and he showed little interest in succeeding his father in Brussels. In fact, Henri-Joseph’s marriage, in 1777, to a prominent singer strained the limited finances of his father, who consequently had to sell many of his works to Charles of Lorraine himself.

While not revolutionary, these six trio sonatas are more than simply pleasant. They are sunny (even when they are in a minor key) and vigorous, and probably fun to play, given the composer’s penchant for what might be called busy (but not gratuitously so) part writing. They also demonstrate the composer’s mastery of how to compose for the flute, although the violin was his interest. De Croes might be largely forgotten, but it is not because he wrote dull or unimaginative music.

The members of BarrocoTout are Carlota Garcia (traverso), Izana Soria (violin), Eduardo Catalan (cello), and Ganaël Schneider (harpsichord). These are bright and alert performances that suit the music well, and the playing is tonally refined. Listen, for example, to Garcia and Soria in the central Adagio of the Trio Sonata No. 2, and you can’t fail to notice the grace and sensitivity of their dialogue with each other. All goes well in these readings, with no rushing or pushing.

Linn’s engineering is, as expected, outstanding. The instruments have a strong, realistic presence, and are optimally in balance. You can almost reach out and touch the harpsichord.

Perhaps this is not an essential purchase, but it will be appreciated by those with tastes for music from either the late Baroque or Rococo period.

03 January 2020