The late Patric Standford may have written these short pieces deliberately to provoke our feedback. If so, his success is reflected in the rich range of readers' comments appearing at the foot of most of the pages.
Joseph Bologne was born in 1745 on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, then a French colony. His father Georges was a wealthy white planter and his mother was a slave and personal maid of Georges' wife. Despite the racial climate of the times, Joseph was taken into the family and in 1753 his father took him to Paris for his education, where aged thirteen he was enrolled in the Royal Academy of fencing and horsemanship. The boy was a prodigy in both categories, and at the age of seventeen his fame as an exceptional fencer was the talk of the whole of France. Upon his graduation in 1766 the King made him an officer of the King's bodyguard and he was given the title of 'Chevalier'. That is why he is known till this day as 'Chevalier de Saint-Georges', his father's surname. But fencing and horse riding apart, Joseph was an incredible violinist and composer.
In 1764 the renowned Antonio Lolli wrote two concertos for him, and two years later the great François Gossec dedicated a set of six string trios to the young man. Indeed, in 1769 Saint-Georges began to play in the violin section of Gossec's orchestra. In 1772 he created a sensation when he appeared as soloist for his own violin concertos with Gossec as conductor.
Apart from the violin concertos, Saint-Georges also wrote six quatuors concertans, two excellent symphonies and a number of symphonie-concertantes, a form of music that owes its popularity to this particular composer. Saint-Georges stopped writing instrumental music in 1779, and instead turned to opera. He would eventually write six such works. Sadly, only the one under review has survived, and this album is a world premiere recording of this work. Saint-Georges' life is too interesting to summarize in this protracted article. I encourage you strongly to read further about this exceptional composer, whose music is so originally beautiful and imaginative. By the time of his demise in 1799 he was much admired, and his consummate artistry earned him the title of 'The Black Mozart'. Some accolade indeed.
Now to the opera in hand. L'Amant Anonyme (The Anonymous Lover) was premiered on 18 March 1780 at the private theatre of Madame de Montesson. It is a two-act comedy to a libretto by Desfontaines-Lavallée based on a play by Madame de Genlis.
Listen — Joseph Bologne: Overture (L'Amant Anonyme)
(CDR 90000217 CD1 track 1, 0:00-1:00) ℗ 2023 Cedille Records :
The story concerns a wealthy young widow, Leontine, who resists suggestions that she fall in love again after a cold marriage to her late husband. She has been receiving gifts and love letters from an anonymous admirer, who is actually her good friend Valcour. Valcour however is of lower birth and is afraid Leontine could never love him. So he hides his feelings and tells her that even he is closed to love. Still, he clumsily tries to reveal himself through mutual friends, just as Leontine is trying to meet the Anonymous Lover herself. Eventually all is revealed, and they give themselves to each other for the rest of their lives.
Listen — Joseph Bologne: Aimons-nous sans cesse (L'Amant Anonyme Act II)
(CDR 90000217 CD2 track 18, 0:00-0:35) ℗ 2023 Cedille Records :
This is music that will surely surprise 21st century listeners when they discover the quality, charm, passion, inventiveness and sheer effectiveness of Saint-Georges' unjustly neglected compositions. Indeed, his use of melody, harmony, instrumental colour and rhythm combine to communicate each scene's core emotional effect.
Listen — Joseph Bologne: Chantons, célébrons notre dame
(L'Amant Anonyme Act I)
(CDR 90000217 CD1 track 8, 0:15-1:06) ℗ 2023 Cedille Records :
Craig Trompeter and his team deliver some truly memorable performances full of vocal brilliance imbued with passion and excitement; not only, but characterisations are finely defined, making the end result a stylish and highly enjoyable experience.
Listen — Joseph Bologne: Contredance générale (L'Amant Anonyme)
(CDR 90000217 CD2 track 19, 1:15-2:38) ℗ 2023 Cedille Records :
Sound, booklet and presentation are absolutely gorgeous. A must for all opera aficionados, especially those interested in rare eighteenth century stage-works.
Copyright © 5 April 2023