French composers of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries delighted in adorning their pieces with foreign, in particular, Italian, elements, often calling attention to them in the titles. Among the most subtle transalpine stylists was Francois Couperin, who was refining the ‘French style’ and publishing his legacy in the form of harpsichord and chamber music. His contemporary, Marin Marais, contributed his own subtle essay in the exotic, a “Suitte d’un gout etranger” published in his Fourth Book of Pieces de une et a trois viole (1717), nearly 30 years after his First Book (the epitome of French viol playing) had appeared.
If he were so minded, Jordi Savall might hand copies of this CD out to new acquaintances as the musical equivalent of a calling-card. True, he appears here only in the guise of soloist, whereas a more complete portrait would need to include samples of his work as director and conductor; but as an illustration of the range of the viola da gamba, this generously filled disc is exemplary. And although the calling-card might not be handmade, it is the nearest thing to it, since Alia Vox is Savall’s own, newly established label.
It would not, perhaps, be too much of a stretch to think of Marc-Antoine Charpentier as a sort of late 17th century Poulenc. Poulenc is known for two distinct artistic faces, one a comedian of the zaniest sort, and the other capable of expressing the most profound emotional depth. Charpentier's work lay in almost complete obscurity for nearly two centuries when in the late 20 century it began being brought to light, revealing one of the most fertile and inventive musical minds of the Baroque. He has been known almost exclusively for his religious music, and particularly for his gift for expressing the darkest grief.
These "concerts mis en simphonie" are Jean-Philippe Rameau's Pièces de clavecin en concert of 1741, orchestrated for strings and winds (but no harpsichord) by Hugo Reyne, flutist and director of the historical-instrument group La Simphonie du Marais. Rameau's originals are for violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord, but unlike in an Italian trio sonata or accompanied sonata the harpsichord is at the center of the group. The violin and gamba are accompanimental and can optionally be replaced with other instruments.
This collection of Marais’ music was published in 1692 as “Trio Pieces for flutes, violins and dessus de viole,” the dessus being the second smallest of the viola de gamba family. (There was a pardessus de viole.) The notes here call this music “a totally different side of Marin Marais’ work,” for he composed these dance movements not for himself but for his companions, Read more à bec, which are accompanied variously by guitar or theorbo and harpsichord. I think it’s amusing to think of the king, any king, being enticed to sleep by dances, especially by such vigorous, cheerful stomps as the Bransle de village , but then there was little about France’s monarchs that wasn’t strange, and that little innocent dance is as appealing as anything here.
The first volume of Tempesta di Mare's series on Chandos, Comédie et Tragédie, offers period-style performances of orchestral music by Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Féry Rebel, and Marin Marais. The orchestral suites drawn from Lully's music for Le bourgeois gentilhomme, Rebel's symphonie nouvelle Les élémens, and Marais' suite from the tragédie en musique Alcyone give a taste of theater music in the court of Louis XIV and Louis XV, and these pieces show how inventive composers were with instrumentation and their combinations of dances with dramatic scene painting. Tempesta di Mare, which is also known as the Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, gives bright and energetic performances, and the musicians have a fine sense of the swung rhythms, distinctive tone colors, and lively ornamentation in French Baroque music. The recording is clear and well-balanced, though the percussion in Lully's March for the Turkish Ceremony (track 4) is a bit startling, and the dissonant opening of Rebel's Le Chaos (track 13) has its own shock value. Highly recommended.
A noteworthy fact: Marais, in his five books of Pièces de viole, published only two suites for two viols and continuo. Aside from the two suites for three viols (Book IV), all the other pieces are intended for the solo instrument with accompaniment of harpsichord, theorbo or a second viol in different combinations.
French composer Marin Marais (1656-1728) was remarkably prolific, writing nearly 600 compositions for viola da gamba, as well as many operas. One of his major collections of music for the gamba is Suitte d'un Gôut Etranger, a collection of 33 short works written, according to the composer, "to stretch the skill of those who do not like easy pieces." Jordi Savall, the most acclaimed gamba player of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries, who is responsible for bringing many of Marais' works to light, plays with extraordinary virtuosity and expressiveness.
Between 1975 and 1983, Jordi Savall recorded five albums including the most beautiful pieces from each of the five ‘Books of Pieces for the Viol’ composed by Marin Marais between 1686 and 1725. A silence of nearly 250 years came to an end. A repertoire - and even better, an instrument - returned from oblivion.