This disc presents a collection of music by the Walloon Loeillet family, which came from Ghent and moved on to London. Two of them were sons of a prominent surgeon, Jean-Baptiste François Loeillet, who himself came from a musical family, and the third was their cousin (whose father was a professional violinist). Since almost all their works were published as by “J. Loeillet,” considerable confusion as to who did what has evolved, and when one adds that one of the works in this collection, the concerto for flute and oboe attributed to Jacques Loeillet, may actually be by Robert Woodcock (1690–1728), then the entire matter becomes most tortuous. Suffice it to say that Jean-Baptiste (without the François, 1680–1730) moved to London in 1705, changing his name to John, while his brother Jacques (1685–1748), retained his birth name as oboist to the Elector of Bavaria and the King of France, though he was known as Jacob. Their cousin, also named Jean-Baptiste (1688–1720), worked in France as well (in Lyon), but added to his name “de Gant,” presumably to distinguish himself from the London Loeillet. If anyone comes away from this identification mess with some clarity, they are doing much better than I am. At least the additional fillip by director Jan Devlieger of his own “reflections” offers no such controversy as to who wrote it, though I daresay that if it were put on a drop-the-needle test, the stately dance based upon Loeillet tunes for string quartet would fit in quite well with the rest of the music on the disc. This being said, I for one have difficulties when a modern composer who is not reconstructing a work with missing parts (as I myself have done) inserts his own music, whether stylistically compatible or not, onto a disc devoted to the works of others long departed. Whether or not this modern interloper is well done (and this one is), it has always seemed a bit suspect, and this disc could easily have done without such an encore.
In any case, the music on this disc is delightful, although that term may elicit caution when one finds that the sonatas and suite are all in minor keys, lending a touch of drama to the disc. The Jacques Loeillet sonata for two flutes and two recorders is very much in the vein of Henry Purcell, with a roving bass that outlines a ground in the two fast movements, but Loeillet plays off the two very different timbres of the flutes and recorders in a careful manner that exploits the sonorities. This almost calls for echo effects, and to be sure there are some, but especially in the first movement and the sustained mezzo di voce lines of the second, the sonorities blend and diffuse, making this a well-designed work. A good passacaglia seems to wind it off. It is quite different from its companion in A Minor by Jean Baptiste Loeillet, a four-movement suite for two recorders that almost begs to have someone provide a basso continuo. It is very Corellian, with almost all of the four movements in imitation, save for the rather flowing gigue at the end. The recorder and oboe sonata by John Loeillet, on the other hand, wavers between Handel and Purcell in style, with nice Handelian imitation between the two instruments in the opening Adagio, and a sort of perpetual-motion running bass tying everything together in the Allegro that follows. The harpsichord suite is extremely French in style, indistinguishable from François Couperin in the cautions and detailed ornamentation that seems to permeate the succession of dance movements. I particularly like the thickly textured final gigue. As for the two concertos, they are worlds apart from the Jacques Loeillet sonata, the first being a very Vivaldian three-movement work for flute, and the second almost a dead ringer for Telemann for oboe. These are clear imitations to my ear, and provide none of the cautious textural work of the sonata. The sustained lyrical oboe line of the third movement, which soars above steadily marching string chords, is a nice bit that certainly has imitations of Telemann, while the second movement is a rather stiff fugue between the oboe and first violin. I say, if Robert Woodcock wants to claim these, then all the more power to him, for they just don’t measure up to the Loeillet sonata in quality, though they are nice pieces in and of themselves. Not much needs to be said about the dance tunes, save that they are the sort of everyday party music made for dancing and a world apart from the more stylized sonatas and concertos. There is nice rollicking rigaudon that is a hornpipe in disguise, and one can’t fault the lively “Canarie,” a reworked gigue.
The early-music group Les Goûts-Authentiques may be sort of playing to the Ghent historical leanings of its leader, but the sound is excellent all around. The playing is lively and finely nuanced, the intonation and balance perfect, and they certainly make the music come alive, even the tombeau composed by Devlieger. I do not know if this will herald any further exploration of the Loeillet family’s music, but it is enough to make me want more. A wonderful disc and highly recommended.