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Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Les Folies d’Espagne [18:12]
Livre II de Pièces de Violes (1701)
Suite in E minor [30:30]
Livre IV de Pièces de Violes (1717)
Suite d’un Goût Étranger – Le Labyrinthe [12:28]
Ensemble Spirale
rec. 2005, Saint Michael’s Church, Paris
Previously released on Zig Zag Territoires ZZT060801
ALPHA CLASSICS 338 [61:10]

As Alpha continue to mine its archive, as well as that of its sister companies, some real gems are appearing, this present disc being a good example. It offers two of the most famous works by Marais, his 32 variations on ‘Les Folies’ and ‘Le Labyrinthe’, along with his Suite in E minor, which also contains as the final piece of the Suite his ‘Tombeau Pour M. de Sainte-Colombe’, another of his famous pieces and one in which he remembers his former tutor.

There is evidence that Les Folies d’Espagne had a long gestation, as it first appears in a manuscript that dates to around 1680, and is unique in the composer’s output in being the only work based upon a borrowed theme. It draws upon the English tradition of ‘divisions on a ground’ which had recently been introduced to French music; the result is a wonderful array of complex and virtuosic variations that make this piece my favourite of all the works based on this theme.

The Suite in E minor, which echoes the prevalent French harpsichord style, lasts over half an hour and makes clear why Marais was held in such high esteem and seen as the successor to Jean de Sainte-Colombe, the most gifted composer and performer of music for the viol of his day. From its opening Prelude, the beauty and variety of this suite shines forth, a musical tour de force for the performers, a challenge they meet head on here. The suite concludes with the ‘Tombeau Pour M. de Sainte-Colombe’, in which Marais composed a memorial for his teacher (although the exact dare of his death is not known, it is thought that he died in 1700), the year before this suite appeared. The piece is a tender memorial, one in which Marais shows his indebtedness to the older composer.

The final work on the disc is Le Labyrinthe, a piece often performed as a single work although it is taken from his Suitte d’un Goût Étranger or Suite in a foreign style, which itself formed part of his fourth book of Pièces de Viole. This is a wonderfully complex piece that starts in the home key of A Major, and then wanders through several other keys “all of which turn out to be dead ends” before finally returning to the home key.

This is a wonderful disc, one in which Ensemble Spirale excel, their performance is excellent throughout and one that is more than a match for Jordi Savall in his recording of the E minor Suite (Alia Vox 9828). The recording boasts fine recorded sound and is furnished with the excellent notes that featured in the original release.

Stuart Sillitoe



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