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Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
La Gracieuse: Pièces de Viole
Suite in A major [16:01]
Suite in E minor [14:29]
Suite in G minor [19:51]
Suite in F-Sharp Minor [15:38]
Robert Smith (viola da gamba)
Israel Golani (baroque guitar & theorbo)
Joshua Cheatham (viola da gamba)
Olivier Fortin (harpsichord)
Adrián Rodríguez Van der Spoel (percussion)
rec. 2019, Lutherse Kerk, Groningen, Netherlands

Marin Marais was the leading – and most prolific – composer of music for the viol of his day. Robert Smith, in the introduction to the booklet notes, writes that in the build-up to this recording, he played every one of Marais’s Pièces de Viole with basso continuo twice before choosing which of them to include. The resulting great selection takes the listener back to the heyday of French baroque recordings in 1980s and 1990s, when the likes of Jordi Savall and Smith’s own teacher Paolo Pandolfo where introducing us to the sound of the viol.

The twenty-nine pieces have been chosen from each of the Marais’s five books of Pièces de Viole, and arranged into the four suites presented here, in A Major, E minor, G minor and F sharp minor. This, unlike with many composers, was apparently the done thing with the music of Marin Marais. His music ranged over forty years of composition, but he would himself encourage this practice. The effect here is a fabulous collection of well-known pieces mingling with those less known. This varied and exciting program offers a lot, even to fans of the music of Marin Marais like me.

The playing is as wonderful in the slow meditative pieces, for example the opening Prelude of the Suite in A, as in the more boisterous ones, for example Rondeau paysan of the Suite in E minor (which also features percussion). Robert Smith and friends have full measure of this music. Their atmospheric and aptly measured performance stands up well against the best of the rest. The suite construction makes is a most fitting introduction to the composer.

The recorded sound is excellent. Its natural acoustic helps bring out the best from these pieces. The accompanying documentation is wonderful. The introduction by Robert Smith explains the thinking behind his choices. The essay by Siavash Sabetrohani gives good insight into Marin Marais and his music, as well as details of each piece. This is a welcome addition to my growing Marais collection.

Stuart Sillitoe



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