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Robert de VISÉE (1660?-1732?)
Theorbo pieces in E minor [14:23]
Theorbo pieces in B minor [13:27]
Couperin arrangements [8:39]
Theorbo pieces in G minor [14:05]
Theorbo pieces in D, including two Lully arrangements [15:44]
Fred Jacobs (French theorbo)
rec. April-May 2013, St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, UK
METRONOME MET CD 1089 [66:21]

Robert de Visée was, for decades, a favorite musician of King Louis XIV. According to Fred Jacobs’ liner-notes, de Visée’s compositions were frequently practised and performed by the King himself. De Visée often performed chamber music with François Couperin; and the King often ended his days by withdrawing for the evening and being lulled to sleep by the sound of de Visée, playing the lute next to the royal bed. Remember what Mel Brooks says: “It’s good to be the King.”
If you were choosing a lute composer-performer to play at the foot of your bed, Robert de Visée would be a great choice. His compositions aren’t as long, developed or structurally intricate as the German near-contemporary Silvius Weiss; instead each piece clocks in between 1-3 minutes. There are many lively dance movements here - gigues and gavottes aplenty - but a sarabande in B minor is the darkly expressive heart of the recital. I’m not altogether sure if these pieces were intended to be suites, or if Fred Jacobs grouped them smartly by key.
All of it is lovely, and sounds rich and full on the French-style theorbo, a photograph of which is in the booklet. There are particular highlights: two arrangements of Couperin and two of Lully show de Visée’s skill for reworking the music of his colleagues. You’ll especially enjoy Couperin’s Les Sylvains and the “Chaconne des Scaramouches, Trivelins et un Harlequin” from Lully’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. A minor-key “Gigue angloise” is fun, although “La Conversation”, de Visée’s signature piece, is a bit of a let-down. The titular conversation is only intermittently depicted by criss-crossing voices; maybe it was too much work to sustain the effect for long.
Fred Jacobs brings scholarship to both his writing and his playing, and it’s a treat to spend an hour in his company, with this music. Throw in the recorded sound and this is the next-best thing to having a theorbo player in your bed-chambers. Ah, well: if we can’t be kings, we can at least play royal music on our stereos.
Brian Reinhart