Marais Meets Corelli
Lina Tur Bonet (violin)
Ensemble Musica Narrans/Jakob Rattinger (viola da gamba)
rec. 2015, Pfarrsaal St Jakob, Schrobenhausen, Germany
PAN CLASSICS PC10395 [64:56]
There they are on the cover picture, Corelli and Marais, doyens of violin and viola playing respectively, arguably the greatest string virtuosi of their age. It’s a mash-up of their celebrated portraits by Hugh Howard and André Bouys, the composers seemingly posing for all the world like an early 18th century Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in the green room prior to a headlining slot at Knebworth, the Frenchman idly bowing his instrument, the Italian looking into the middle distance, seemingly impassive. Although I guess that the Led Zeppelin stalwarts would have drawn the line at the luminous blue and pink tints, which the Pan Classics cover design people have thoughtfully applied to their wigs.
This album is something of a contrivance; its note provides an interesting potted pan-European history of the development of the viola and the violin, and though its title implies a meeting between these two great instrumentalists, the essence of the note addresses the ‘competition’ (real or illusory) between violas, violins and other stringed instruments. It muses on the survival and ultimate flourishing of the violin and the demise of the viola, and the emergence of a repertoire for either (or both) instruments. There are pieces on this album for each protagonist with and without continuo, while the works that conclude the disc focus on collaborations between them, climaxing with a kind of baroque ‘jamming’ session based on the ubiquitous La Folia, which blends Corelli’s and Marais’s individual parts into an imagined whole.
But it’s really unnecessary for the listener to take this concept too seriously, or even to acknowledge it at all, to enjoy the fabulous musicianship of gambist Jakob Rattinger and the brilliant Spanish violinista Lina Tur Bonet, on a disc that contains a myriad of delights recorded with warts-and-all directness. I use this figure of speech as the musicians and engineers alike seem to glory in getting down and dirty with this repertoire. The opening Tobias Hume trifle A Souldiers Galliard illustrates this immediately, with Rattinger drawing all sorts of textures and colours from his solo viola, not all of which involve conventional bowing and may strike the listener as raw, to say the least. This confrontational spirit also pervades Antoine Forqueray’s Chaconne that bristles with a pleasing, grainy roughness. This opening fusillade from the viola concludes with Marais’s D major suite from his third book. Here Rattinger is accompanied by harpsichord and theorbo. Even though Marais’s inspiration is comparatively refined, Rattinger almost seems to make his instrument weep and bleed in the opening Prelude. As the suite proceeds, Rattinger pays lip service to the Frenchman’s ornate decoration, though notwithstanding a more tenderly projected Sarabande, this reading is still winningly provocative.
Lina Tur Bonet’s magical violin playing then takes centre stage in an account of one of her ‘greatest hits’, Corelli’s G minor sonata Op 5, No 5 (she has previously recorded the whole Op 5 set with her fine group Musica Alchemica on Pan PC 10375. It is a sensational recording and was justifiably selected as the BBC’s Building a Library first choice for these works). In this case Rattinger’s viola joins the harpsichord and theorbo in the continuo to add an earthier tang. The opening Adagio is truly expressive, Tur Bonet’s tone intense and pure, her songful line tastefully ornamented. The recorded sound leaves nothing to the imagination. After a lively Vivace the central Adagio is yet more melancholy; Ralf Waldner’s harpsichord providing empathic support to the yearning violin. The two swift movements that conclude the sonata bounce along delightfully, although the regretful tone of the slow movements is never completely allayed. As always there is tangible life and spirit to Tur Bonet’s playing, qualities that were omnipresent in the earlier Corelli set. After a colourful, almost jaunty viola-led Chaconne en Rondeau by Marais, which uses the full ensemble with a glistening baroque guitar, the full group then accompany Tur Bonet in a majestic reading of Biber’s E minor sonata. Its fragrant, dramatic opening Adagio immediately offers her the opportunity for virtuosic display, and as it elides into the following Adagio Variatio her playing becomes proudly strident and assertive; to make yet another rock analogy, Tur Bonet is in my view the Jimi Hendrix of the baroque violin - her Biber here is hewn with the fire and beauty that characterised her outstanding account of his Mystery Sonatas, also on Pan Classics (PC 10329).
With the exception of another brief burst of solo viola courtesy of the good Captain Hume’s Hark, hark, whose austere weirdness Rattinger amplifies with yet more odd col legno effects, the rest of this extremely diverting recital is given over to viola/violin collaborations. The first of these is arguably Marais’s most famous single movement, the chaconne entitled La Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève du Mont de Paris (The Bells of St Geneviève). Although its melody is tossed about between the two principals it is more of a virtuoso showcase for the violist, and Rattinger takes full advantage, whizzing through its rapid passages, conjuring an abundance of textures from his instrument, colours by turn ripe and brittle. Tur Bonet is cast here more as a generous foil. Jacques Morel was a lesser known student of Marais, and his Chaconne en trio more democratic in terms of the division of responsibility, though this is a more restrained work than La Sonnerie; its highlights are its two brief but delicate duets between the two principals without the continuo. The album concludes with a synthesis of Corelli’s and Marais’s individual parts for La Folia. This brings us back to the ‘competition’ concept of the disc. It takes a couple of minutes to truly catch fire but when it does, it packs a real punch. The harpsichord even joins in the fun with a mad solo in the middle. The umpire’s verdict in this tournament: An honourable draw – in the words of Lewis Carroll’s Dodo “All must have prizes.” As for the album as a whole – it’s an unequivocal winner.
Tobias HUME (c1559-1645) A Souldiers Galliard (1605) [1:30]
Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745) Chaconne. La Buisson (from Pièces de Viole, 1747) [4:34]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728) Suite in D (from Livre III, 1711) [13:46]
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713) Violin Sonata Op 5 No 5 in G minor (1700) [11:15]
Marin MARAIS Chaconne en Rondeau (from Livre II, 1701) [3:53]
Heinrich BIBER (1644-1704) Violin Sonata No 5 in E minor (1681) [11:20]
Marin MARAIS La Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève du Mont de Paris [7:28]
Jacques MOREL (c1690-1740) Chaconne en trio (1709)
Tobias HUME Hark, hark (1605) [1:48]
Marin MARAIS, Arcangelo CORELLI, and Improvisations: Folia Variations (1700/01) [5:57]