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Nicolas LEBÈGUE (c1631-1702)
Les Cloches (arr. Susie Napper) [04:02]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Les Voix Humaines (arr. Susie Napper) [04:08]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Le Dodo ou L'amour au Berçeau [03:45]
Muséte de Choisi et Muséte de Taverni [03:39]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Pièces de clavecin en concert (arr. Susie Napper)
La Coulicam [04:22]
La Livri [03:55]
La Vézinet [02:32]
Le Trophée [02:17]
Airs pour la suite du Trophée [03:26]
Le point du jour (allemande) [03:06]
L'Anguille (arr. Margaret Little) [03:18]
La Muzette (Margaret Little) [04:13]
Les Folies d'Espagne (arr. Susie Napper) [17:25]
Les Voix Humaines (Susie Napper, Margaret Little (viola da gamba))
rec. September 2000, Église Saint-Augustin, Saint-Augustin de Mirabel, Québec, Canada. DDD
ATMA ACD22203 [60:09]

This disc presents music by French composers of the 17th and 18th century. Some of it is played instruments other than those for which it was written. Sometimes this means that the compositions have to be arranged in order to fit the instruments on which they are played. There was a time when adherents of historical performance practice were not very keen on arranging music. The original idea of this movement was to perform music exactly the way it was written by the composer. Even if one recognises that interpreters have to add something of their own (like ornamentation) - which is generally accepted nowadays - there is still some scepticism as far as arrangements are concerned.
But, as the American oboist and musicologist Bruce Haynes writes in the booklet, the practice of arranging music was very common in the baroque era. Composers frequently performed their own works, and they didn't play them exactly the same way every time. Often composers arranged their own compositions. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Schübler Choräles are arrangements for organ of movements from his cantatas. And he wasn't afraid to arrange music by other composers as well. Composers often left it to the interpreters to choose the instrument on which to play their music. Sometimes they specifically suggested several ways of performing them.
From this one may conclude that there are no objections whatsoever to arranging or reworking compositions. Still some questions remain. It may be true that composers left it to the performer to choose the instrument on which to play their music but that wasn't always the case. Isn't it reasonable to assume that if the composer mentioned a specific instrument other instruments are excluded? Furthermore, some works are so idiomatic that they need a lot of reworking to make them playable on another instrument. Can such an arrangement leave the intentions of the composer intact? Is there any limit to the practice of arranging? How far is an interpreter allowed to go? And yes, we know that Bach played his compositions for solo violin - very idiomatically written for the instrument - on the keyboard, but does this give today's interpreters the right to do the same? It is not their own music, after all.
One misunderstanding should be cleared up. Arrangements as played on this disc are in no way comparable to the arrangements of the romantic era like Bach's organ chorales played by a symphony orchestra. The main difference is that here music written for a baroque instrument, for instance the harpsichord, is played on other baroque instruments, two gambas. Both the harpsichord and the viola da gamba, with all their differences in character and technical features, have their roots in the same aesthetic ideals. Therefore there is a much better chance that the intentions of the composer remain intact.
All questions apart: what in the end is decisive is how well the arrangements sound and how close they are to what the composer had in mind. From this perspective I am not totally enthusiastic about this disc. The two gambists play brilliantly, as they usually do in their recordings. But the arrangements are not always convincing. As is to be expected, the pieces originally written for one viola da gamba and basso continuo, reworked here for two gambas, work best. In particular the closing work, 'Les Folies d'Espagne' by Marais, is given an enthralling reading. But the harpsichord pieces by Couperin are obviously more difficult to arrange. In some works the composer uses effects which are so strongly connected to the harpsichord that they are not easily played on two viols. I also find the opening work of this disc, Lebègue's 'Les Cloches', rather unconvincing in this form: just too much of the original is lost. And Rameau's La Coulicam is not very satisfying either.
But I realise this is partly personal and it is quite possible that others will have a different experience and will enjoy those pieces I find a little disappointing. My advice: find out for yourself, as the playing is of the highest calibre and the sound of the gambas has been recorded brilliantly.
Johan van Veen




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