This is a welcome reissue of viol music by one of the instrument's
most prolific composers, Marin Marais. Born in 1656, he spent
all his life in a Paris electric with musical invention. Part
of a community of string players, Marais studied with the composer
and celebrated player, Sainte-Colombe, who is alleged to have
declared after only six months that Marais had nothing more to
learn from him. It was Lully's influence, and the latter's advocacy
of French - as opposed to the Italianate - forms and style, that
further encouraged Marais as a composer, as well as player. A
deserved reputation, too, as one of the viol's most persuasive
implicit advocates of his instrument persists to the present.
Between 1686 and 1725 Marais published five Books of pieces for
viol and continuo. The second, third and fourth of these were
published in 1701, 1711 and 1717 respectively. From these Books,
eight pieces are presented on this double CD from Virgin Veritas
with the French bass viol players, Alix Verzier and Jerôme
Hantaï, and his brother Pierre Hantaï (harpsichord).
Interestingly, although published as books, these suites (which
contain from seven to forty one pieces) were not necessarily
meant to be performed 'complete'. Rather, individual, separate
numbers from each in the same key were designed to be 'extracted'
and 'reassembled' as collections according to circumstance. This
is what the three musicians have done here: two contrasting major
and minor pieces on each disc. So the 'from
' in each case
in no way suggests an arbitrary sampler. Their choices work well.
They illustrate the wide variety of compositional styles in which
Marin Marais was competent, imaginative and innovative.
The dance, of course, was rarely far from Marais' mind. The basic
here. As are also doubles
(elaborated variants), preludes
Further, the dance forms were personalised and adapted by Marais
to serve his particular expressive purposes - in the way Couperin
sometimes also did. We can only guess at the precise occasions
or circumstances which inspired Marais to write pieces such as Charivary
The important thing is that the musicians here should enter into
the spirit of it and interpret it as they see
fit three hundred years later. And indeed they do.
These could in no way be described as rollicking performances.
Not that they lack pep or spontaneity. But Verzier, Hantaï and
Hantaï have - rightly - chosen introspection, dignity and
even respect over abandon in their tempi, phrasing and
even ornamentation: listen to the end of the plainte
the G Minor suite from the Third Book, for instance.
Very temperate. And all the better for it - Marais gains in stature
for such considered playing. Like stopping to examine a perhaps
previously dismissed painting more closely.
To continue the metaphor, the painting may well be of a vast
landscape for there is no sense of claustrophobia in either Marais'
writing or the Hantaïs' and Versier's playing. In contrast
with some of the works of another of Marais' contemporaries,
Michel-Richard de Lalande, there is little brooding or obscured
tone here. For sure, Marais' writing is intense and focused.
And the players respect and communicate as much. But they do
not exaggerate it with misplaced tenuti
or dragging tempi,
over-dense harmonics or over-complex ornamentation. The two violists,
in particular, play completely in the airy and delicate idiom
for which Marais was so well known. The acoustic helps. It's
neither stifling nor too dry.
Just the right balance between substance, weight and depth on
the one hand - and urbanity, humanity and humour on the other
has been consistently struck in all eight pieces here. In part
because each is played in its own terms and with its own intricacies
and movement having been sensitively brought out. The result
is a dignity, a lack of 'fruitiness', from which this repertoire
has at times suffered. In short, the three committed players
have produced something that is approachable rather through its
unselfconscious beauty than because it's an 'example' of anything.
There is a short introductory essay and details of the instruments
used… Jerôme Hantaï's bass viols are Pierre
Jaquiers from the 1980s after French originals; Alix Verzier's
a Charles Riché from 1994 after Nicolas Bertrand; Pierre
Hantaï's harpsichords a Joel Katzman (17th century Flemish
style), Joop Klinkhammer and Jürgen Ammer from a German
model. If you have preconceptions of the music of Marin Marais,
these performances are likely to shift them either in the direction
of sturdier affection, or greater understanding. If the area
is new to you, this gentle, inspired and thoughtful playing may
well make you wish you'd come to it sooner.