issued as Harmonia Mundi HMC905248, this sampler of the
suites for viola da gamba by the great French master Marin
Marais has some considerable virtues and only minor weaknesses.
clear strength is that it gives us examples of Marais’s
work from almost the whole span of his career – from the
Second Livre, published in 1701 - but containing
work written as early as the 1680s - to the Fifth – and
last – Livre, published three years before his death.
It is worth noting, however, that by concentrating mainly
on the dance suites, rather than on character pieces, the
emphasis very much falls on a single (though admittedly
richly complex) side of Marais’s achievement. So we have
a number of allemandes, courantes, gigues, sarabandes,
menuets and gavottes; what we have less of are the ‘character’ pieces
such as Tableau de l'operation de la Talle. The
one exception here is ‘Le Labyrinthe’, from the Suite
d’un gout étranger included in the fourth Livre. Évrard
Titon du Tillet (1877-1762) described ‘Le Labyrinthe’ very
well in saying that in it “by moving through different
keys, requiring diverse dissonances, insisting on the lowest
notes, then the highest, Marais depicts the quandary of
a man lost in a labyrinth; happily he finds his way out – and
we are rewarded with a graceful chaconne”. Quintana and
his colleagues do appropriate justice to this piece, though
I have heard it played with a richer expressiveness.
in the ‘Tombeau pour Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe’, Marais’s
tribute to his erstwhile teacher, this trio isn’t quite
as emotionally expressive as some accounts; there is more
dignity than pathos in this performance, but it works very
well on its own terms.
is in the dance movements that Quintana and his colleagues
are at their very best. High points include the gigues
in the suites in D major, A minor and E minor; the gavottes
in the D major and A minor suites and the rondeaux in the
suites in D major and E minor. It is in the dance movements
that the choice of continuo instruments (theorbo and harpsichord,
rather than harpsichord and second viol) pays the greatest
dividends. Particularly memorable is the ‘Rondeau moitié pincé et
moitié coup d’archet’, which closes the A minor suite,
in which Dolores Costoyas plucked theorbo blends beautifully
with Quintana’s viola da gamba.
who studied with Christophe Coin and Paolo Pandolfo, has
a consistent, sympathetic vision of the music. He seems
to respond most fully to its social dimensions, particularly
its formalisation of the dance music of its age, rather
than to its more inward dimensions, but this is a valid
reading of Marais’s idiom and the results are everywhere
enjoyable and pleasing.