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Marin MARAIS (1656 - 1728): Pièces en trio pour les flûtes, violon et dessus de viole (1692)

Aux Pieds du Roy
Dir: Dirk Börner, Michael Form

rec: August 2007, Songieu, Église & Oct 2007, Blumenstein, Ev. Ref. Kirche
Ambronay Éditions - AMY016 (© 2009) (71'06")

Suite in C; Suite in D; Suite in e minor; Suite in g minor; Suite in B flat: Plainte

Michael Form, recorder; Stephanie Schacht, transverse flute; Leila Schayegh, Ayako Matsunaga, violin; Rebeka Ruso, treble & bass viol; Dolores Costoyas, theorbo, guitar; Dirk Börner, harpsichord

The trio sonata is generally considered an Italian invention, which did only appear in France in the early 18th century when the Italian style made its entrance. But that is a simplification. In France it was Jean-Baptiste Lully who wrote the first trios, and two of them were published as early as 1665 in an anonymous collection. Lully's trios were written for the ceremony which was known as le coucher du Roi, in this case, of course, Louis XIV.

The trios by Marin Marais are somewhere in the middle between these trios by Lully and the trios which were written after the turn of the century by composers like Rebel, Dornel and Couperin, who were representatives of the goût réuni, in which French and Italian influenced were mixed.

Marais is mainly known for his suites for one to three viole da gamba and bc, but in 1692 he published a set of trios under the title Pièces en trio pour les flûtes, violon et dessus de viole. It contains 68 pieces divided into six suites, each containing between 9 and 13 pieces. They all begin with a prélude and contain the then common dance forms like gavotte, gigue, sarabande, menuet and rigaudon, but also airs, free movements like symphonie and caprice, the almost inevitable ostinato movements of chaconne and passacaille and some plaintes.

It is not for the first time these trios have been recorded. But this disc is especially interesting because it is the result of a project of the higher educational institutions in the Swiss capital Berne. The working title of this research project was: "The musical gesture and its interaction with dance in the interpretation of seventeenth-century French music; for a new conception of plasticity of rhythm". The team included a choreographer, a musicologist, a violinist, a flautist and a keyboard player. The results have been translated into this recording.

The first item concerns the choice of tempo. Much research into this subject has taken place already, and the results are often surprising in that the tempi of many dances are much faster than one expects on the basis of previous recordings. For instance the gigue and the chaconne are considerably faster than they are mostly played, but at the same time there are also pieces which are rather slow, like some sarabandes. Sometimes it was decided to choose a slower tempo, because the choreographer Christine Bayle had the experience that the pendulum markings made the tempo too fast to dance with the correct steps.

At the basis of this is, of course, the assumption that these trios were indeed intended to dance at rather than music based on dances. The performers believe the former to be the case, but in their statements about the interpretations I haven't seen a firm and convincing argument for this. The view that this was indeed music to be danced at did influence the performance, for instance in regard to articulation and accentuation.

The research also influenced the scoring as it was concluded from the sources that until the end of the 17th century it was common usage to play one part with two instruments. And that is why we hear here recorder, transverse flute, two violins and treble viol in various combinations in the upper parts. In addition research of the sources has provided the performers with information regarding ornamentation and the realisation of the basso continuo part.

This is all very interesting and in itself makes this recording worthwhile. But creating a really good performance is another matter. Fortunately there is nothing to complain in this respect. On the contrary. These performances are technically brilliant and musically very exciting. All of a sudden this repertoire becomes much more dramatic and theatrical, and comes much closer to opera. As I recently read in the programme notes of a recording of an opera by Bodin de Boismortier French opera's foundation is the dance, and it would be very interesting to hear an opera recording which pays attention to the results of research like this.

If the chaconne from the Suite in C is played at a relatively fast tempo here I wonder how long it would take with a slower tempo as it lasts more than 8 minutes here ... It is very captivating, though, and so are the two Plaintes from the Suite in B flat and the Suite in g minor respectively.

So this is a disc which is recommendable from every perspective: the music, the performance and the interpretational approach. The booklet contains an informative essay on Marais' music and a summary of the results of the research project which is essential reading, as well as a list of the used instruments.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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