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Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Five Old French Dances [6:37]
Suite in D minor [17:53]
Louis de Caix D’HERVELOIS (1677-1759)
Suite No.1 in A minor [13:57]
Suite No.2 in D minor [9:55]
Paul Doktor (viola)
Fernando Valenti (harpsichord)
rec. c. 1953, Vienna

Once again Forgotten Records restore a Westminster LP made during the days of seemingly endless recording sessions in 1950s Vienna. The relative cheapness of their studios had something to do with it, as did the hiring of the hard-worked Vienna Symphony – who were equally cheap - but there were plenty of opportunities for American-based musicians to travel to the city to record as well, whether it was Albert Spalding soloing with the VSO or, as here, two instrumentalists teaming up on Westminster WN18088 – violist Paul Doktor (1919-1989) and harpsichordist Fernando Valenti (1926-1990).

Valenti was a prolific recording artist of the time, setting down volumes of Scarlatti, and specialised in Baroque music. Paul Doktor, whom some will know because of his association with Adolf Busch, was an important presence on the North American scene, recording Piston’s Viola Concerto and premiering Quincy Porter’s Concerto.

Together they tackled dances and suites by Marin Marais and D’Hervelois in this LP and did so with a robust and characterful sense of communicative enjoyment. The Five Ancient French Dances show Marais at his succinct best and Doktor and Valenti relish the rhythmic vitality of La Provençale. Doktor takes La Musette solo, and brings out the drone effects through his rich, warm, somewhat cellistic tone. There is equal breadth of tone, and expressive pointing, in La Matelotte. He reserves his most vivacious bowing for the one piece in the set that offers him the opportunity – Le Basque. The suite offers more overt opportunities for legato phrasing. It’s the Couplets des Folies d’Espagne, a theme and variations that provides the most large-scale playing. There’s a particularly telling pizzicato variation and a fine lute imitation – rather than specifically the viol. Valenti’s dynamism is rooted in an acute control of dynamics – very soft, seemingly under-recorded early in in this piece – and then infectiously extroverted. The wittiest playing comes in L’Américaine, the most playful and delightful movement in the suite.

Louis de Caix d’Hervelois is represented by two finely characterised suites, though they’re still less well-known even today than the more popular Marais. By turns melodically titillating – the Sarabande - and vivacious, as in the Tambourin, the first suite offers great listening pleasure. Given Doktor’s refined elegance and Valenti’s stylistically aware support the movements are brought to life with verve and sympathy. Even the registral demands for the viola in the concluding Gavotte are well met. The more succinct second suite contains the Pleinte, set down on 78s by Maurice Maréchal in one of the most beautiful string recordings ever made. Doktor can’t match Maréchal’s beauty but he is certainly affectionate, in a stately kind of way.

The excellent LP transfer – no ticks, no pops, no rumble, no blasting – comes without notes, but admirers of the two instrumentalists will relish this disc’s restoration.

Jonathan Woolf



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