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Jacques MOREL (c. 1690-c. 1740) Premier Livre de Pièces de Violle
Suite No. 1 in A minor [17:53]
Suite No. 2 in D minor [12:54]
Suite No. 3 in D Major [17:24]
Suite No. 4 in G Major [15:53]
Chaconne en trio in G major [7:05]
Alejandro Marías (solo viola da gamba)
rec. 2018, Madrid, Spain BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95962 [71:28]
There is very little known about Jacques Morel, not even his date and place of birth. What we know is that he was a pupil of the great violist and composer Marin Marais, to whom he dedicated this Premier Livre de Pièces de Violle. Indeed, it is through this association with the master of the viol that I came to know Morel’s name but this is the first time that I have heard any of his music. In the past there were a few recordings: one of the D minor Suites and a couple that present excerpts from the same Suite and the Chaconne. I think that was all. In fact Alejandro Marías in his short introduction to the booklet notes states that he is “very privileged to have been the first person to have recorded this music…”
It is known that Jacques Morel’s Premier Livre de Pièces de Violle was published in 1709 and clearly influenced by his Teacher Marin Marais’s music whose own Troisème Livre de Pièces de Viole would be published in 1711. Indeed Jacques Morel seems to have glorified in the association, although he does make changes in the way his music is ordered and written out. The suites contain, as was the tradition, a prelude followed by a series of dance movements but where Morel differs from Marais is in the fact that no dances are repeated in the suite. He also makes strides to arrange them in what would become the definitive order of movements. But perhaps the biggest innovation is in the way that Morel wrote out his score, with the solo part and the continuo written on the same page. Prior to this, composers, including Marin Marais, would write the solo part in one score and the continuo on a separate one.
The music is attractive and varied in the best French tradition, with each of the suites opening with a slowish prelude followed by seven or eight dance movements. You can understand why the D minor suite is the only one to have been recorded before. Its final two pieces, La Follet and Le Fanchonnette are quite lovely, so these are the two movements that have been recorded separately from the rest of the suite. It is understandable, as they have a charming character all of their own. However, what I can’t understand is why the other three suites are only now receiving their premiere recording. There is a lot here to enjoy: movements that sound like Marais, but then there are times when Marais sounds just like his teacher Sainte-Colombe. There is however enough originality to tell the two apart and show that, despite Morel’s leanings towards the style of Marais, he was his own man with some beautiful and characterful pieces. For example, the two-part prelude and the Sarabande l’Agréable of the Suite in A minor are both wonderful, as are the Gigue à l’anglaise and the Échos de Fontainebleau of the Suite in D. In the Suite No. 4 in G we get a typically Italian Gigue along with a charming Rondeau Dauphin. This suite is rounded off with the La Guerandoise & Double, which forms a perfect way to conclude it. What follows is a stand-alone Chaconne en trio, in which the viols and harpsichord are joined by the traverso flute to bring the Livre as a whole to its wonderful conclusion. This is a piece of real beauty and it is understandable why it has gained more recordings than the rest of Morel’s music.
The performance is excellent throughout, with Alejandro Marías a beautifully toned gamba soloist. He also wrote the short but quite comprehensive booklet notes. The continuo players of La Spagna, Pablo Garrido and Jordan Fumadó, back up Alejandro Marías extremely well indeed whilst Alvaro Marias and his copy of a baroque traverso flute is underused. He only gets the Chaconne to play but it is a telling contribution. They are captured well with the overall sound being pleasing. This is a disc of a composer who up until now, for me, has been nothing but a musical footnote in the history of French baroque music but who, on this evidence and the strength of this performance, is someone I would like to explore further.