This disc contains three of the most famous pieces by Marin Marais
for the viola da gamba: Les Folies d'Espagne, Le Labyrinthe
and the Tombeau pour Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe. The latter
is played here as part of the Suite in e minor from the second
book of pieces for the viola da gamba. Marais was a brilliant
gambist and one of the top musicians at the court of Louis XIV.
In 1679, just 23 years old, he was appointed 'ordinaire de La
Musique de la chambre du Roy', a position he held until his
Marais studied with Jean de Sainte-Colombe, generally considered the
most brilliant and virtuosic gambist of his time. It seems that
in just six months Marais had learned everything Sainte-Colombe
could teach him. His teacher didn't hold back from publicly
acknowledging Marais's brilliance. Once having heard him play
Sainte-Colombe was asked what he thought of his playing. He
answered that "there were pupils who could surpass their
master, but that young Marais would never find any to surpass
him" (Évrard Titon du Tillet, 1732). The 'Tombeau pour
Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe' is an impressive testimony of Marais's
affection for his teacher. The 'tombeau', meaning 'tomb' or
'tombstone', is an instrumental piece with the character of
a lament, commemorating the death of a person. It came into
existence in France in the 1630's, when the lutenist Ennemond
Gautier wrote a tombeau for a colleague. Other composers followed
in his footsteps with tombeaux for other instruments, including
the harpsichord and the viola da gamba. Marais's Tombeau is
full of pathos, and contains chromaticism and unexpected rests.
It is given a very emotional and moving performance and its
sorrowful character is strikingly expressed.
The disc opens with a series of variations on one of the most famous
tunes of the baroque era, the 'folia'. This was originally a
folk dance from the Iberian peninsula, which was introduced
in the mid-17th century in France, and became the subject of
numerous variations. The variations by Marais are very contrasting
in character and tempo: some are fast and virtuosic, others
much more intimate and lyrical. The contrasts are well realised
here, both by the playing of Marianne Muller and by the variety
in the scoring of the basso continuo.
The 'Tombeau pour Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe' is part of the Suite
in e minor which begins with a prelude in the style of the
'préludes non mesurés' which for some time were an indispensable
part of French harpsichord suites. It is played here in true
improvisatory style, and it is followed by a fast 'fantaisie'.
In the booklet this pair of pieces is compared to the French
opera overture. From this perspective there is a little too
much silence between the two pieces. In most French music it
is basically left to the performer to put together a suite from
pieces in the same key. Here we get two sarabandes and two gigues,
but with a strongly contrasting character. One sarabande and
one gigue are lyrical and concentrate on the development of
the melody, whereas the second sarabande and the second gigue
are more extraverted and virtuosic and focus on the harmony.
Both sides of Marais's composing are impressively displayed
by the ensemble.
The last piece is another remarkable composition. It starts off in
A major and then moves through different keys - symbolising
a man losing his way in a labyrinth - before returning to the
original key and staying there during the closing chaconne.
The recitative-like passages underline its theatrical character,
and it is understandable that François-Pierre Goy in his programme
notes sees this piece as a foreshadow of the trio sonata 'La
Gamme en forme de petit opéra' (the scale in the form of a miniature
opera) which Marais composed later in his career.
As I have indicated above Marais's music gets splendid performances
here. Technically they are flawless, and the 'pincé' - an ornament
which is a vibrato on a single note, comparable with the 'flattement'
or finger vibrato on wind instruments - is sensitively applied
and very well executed. The dramatic and virtuosic pieces are
robust but never harsh, the more lyrical pieces delicate and
In short, this is an excellent recording which anyone interested in
music for the viola da gamba shouldn't miss.
Johan van Veen