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Music for Bass Viols
CD 1
Works for two and three bass viols
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Suite for 3 bass viols and bc in D (4e Livre) [23:04]
Tombeau de Mr Meliton for 2 bass viols and bc (1er Livre) [09:20]
Suite for 2 bass viols in G (1er Livre) [18:32]
Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745)
Pieces for 3 bass viols and bc in d minor [11:12]
CD 2
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Pièces de viole, Volume 2
Pieces for bass viol and bc in D minor (2e Livre) [23:40]
Pieces for bass viol and bc in D (3e Livre) [10:44]
Pieces for bass viol and bc in G (3e; 4e Livres) [20:29]
Pieces for bass viol and bc in D (2e; 3e Livres) [08:12]
Jérôme Hantaï, Kaori Uemura (CD 1), Alix Verzier (bass viol); Pierre Hantaï (harpsichord)
rec. January 1999, March 2000, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, The Netherlands. DDD
VIRGIN VERITAS 4 82082 2 [62:31 + 63:08]

 



Something has gone terribly wrong in this reissue of two discs previously released separately. The tray and the booklet have the wrong tracklist for CD 2, which looks like this:-

'Works for two bass viols'

Christopher Simpson: Divisions in F

Matthew Locke: Suite in C

Jean de Sainte-Colombe: Concert XLIVe 'Tombeau Les Regrets'

François Couperin: XIIIe Concert à deus instruments à l'unisson

Matthew Locke: Suite in D

François Couperin: XIIe Concert à deux violes, ou autres instruments à l'unisson

Jean de Sainte-Colombe: Concert XLIe 'Le Retour'

Christoph Schaffrath: Duetto in D minor

The label on the second disc also mentions these same composers. I was only able to find the correct tracklist by searching the internet. BBC Radio 3 reviewed this set and the BBC site I found a the correct listing for the second disc. As I didn't have that recording I went to my public library where I photocopied the correct tracklist which is given above. The erroneous tracklist probably represents the original intention, as in the programme notes a link is made between the French viol music and the English and German repertoire.

It is a shame that the production staff at Virgin Classics have not been more careful. What makes things worse is that Virgin appears not to have informed retailers and internet shops. While searching the internet I found this release many times on offer, but nowhere was the potential customer informed about the wrong tracklist. In particular those who already own the second disc will feel betrayed when they order this set and find out the truth.

Having said that one can't go wrong from a musical point of view. To start with, the music is just brilliant. Marais was considered by far the best player of the viola da gamba, whom only Forqueray could equal. The music Marais composed for his own instrument is the only surviving evidence of his unsurpassed skills. Most of these pieces were written to be performed by himself. The second disc brings a cross-section of his output for viola da gamba and bc. In those days it was left to the performer to put together a suite from pieces in a particular collection. Jérôme Hantaï has done extremely well. We encounter pieces of great expression, like the sarabandes and the Plainte from the Third Book. A nice contrast is provided by the more playful and theatrical pieces, like the three 'muzettes' (Pieces in G) and the 'Charivary' from the Third Book.

Less common is the programme of the first disc as it presents pieces for two and three bass viols. Scoring for three viols, was not uncommon in the English renaissance - albeit without basso continuo - but rather rare in France. The first book of pieces for solo viol contains music for two viols, originally without a basso continuo, which Marais published separately three years after the publication of the first book. The fourth book includes some pieces for three viols, which are not treated equally, though: the third viol mostly participates in the basso continuo. The same is the case with the compositions for three viols by Forqueray. These were discovered not long before this recording was made.

The second reason for recommending this release is the interpretation, which is excellent. The ensemble playing is of the highest level, and there is no shortage of expression and virtuosity. The ornamentation is exquisite, and the less serious aspect of Marais's music - for instance in the musettes mentioned above - is well explored. Occasionally, for example in the first half of the Suite in D minor, which starts the second disc, I felt that the performance was rather inhibited. But otherwise these performances, full of warmth and passion, capture the character of Marais's music quite brilliantly.

Johan van Veen

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