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Marin MARAIS (1656 - 1728): "Folies"

Philippe Pierlot, viola da gamba; Rainer Zipperling, viola da gamba [bc]; Eduardo Egüez, theorbo; François Guerrier, harpsichord

rec: Oct 2011, Basse-Bodeux (B), Église de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Flora - 2511 [2012] (64'24")
No liner-notes
Cover & track-list

Suite in D (prélude; Bourasque; Couplets de Folies; chaconne); Suite in E; Suite in A

Source: Pièces de viole, Deuxième livre, 1701

In the 17th century two instruments were predominant in music life in France: the lute and the viola da gamba. During the second half of the century the lute gradually lost its prominent place to the harpsichord. The viola da gamba became the main asset of French musical culture and was vehemently defended by ardent supporters of French taste against 'attacks' from the Italian style. It was especially Marais Marais who was their hero as his music was the symbol of everything French musical culture stood for.

Although Marais contributed to other genres as well - for instance the trio sonata and opera - the main part of his output are the five books with music for viola da gamba. These comprise a number of suites in various keys, although it is left to the performer to make his own choices from the various pieces.

This disc includes music from the second book, printed in 1701: two suites in A and in E major respectively as well as some pieces in D major. One of the features of French culture under Louis XIV was a certain amount of formalism, which reflects the atmosphere at the court of Versailles. Along with that go restraint and moderation, especially in the expression of emotion. These features are certainly present in the music of Marais, for instance in the adherence to the traditional dances which dominated French music of the 17th century. It is only in his latest books that Marais increasingly includes character pieces which became popular in the first decades of the 18th century and which dominate the harpsichord books of François Couperin. The later books also show an increasing influence of the Italian style.

One should not however make the mistake of assuming that Marais' music is devoid of expression. Far from it. The tombeau, a kind of musical homage to an admired person, especially other musicians, bears witness to that. Marais composed such pieces for his teachers, Lully and Sainte-Colombe. Slow dances such as sarabandes and pavanes are also full of expression. The Pavane selon le goût des Anciens Compositeurs de luth from the Suite in E is a particularly beautiful example. Here Marais pays tribute to the art of the French lutistes who were so highly esteemed in the 17th century. Some pieces include strong contrasts, for instance the prélude from the Suite in A which is underlined by Philippe Pierlot's sharp 'attack'.

Marais' music is a technical challenge for every performer. That is certainly the case with the Couplets de Folies, a sequence of 32 variations on the famous dance which was the subject of so many compositions in the baroque era. Some variations are very virtuosic, others are elegant and refined. Pierlot delivers a highly compelling performance. He produces a strong and penetrating sound when it is needed, and plays the more introverted pieces with great subtlety and variety of colour. These variations are preceded by one of the most extroverted pieces on this disc, Bourasque, which can mean either a gust of wind or an outburst of anger. Whatever it may mean, it is short and heavy. The Suite in A ends with two very fine pieces: in the Echo the gambist has to change his dynamics in order to suggest another instrument answering his own. The ensuing Fantasie also requires fine dynamic shading which Pierlot realises perfectly.

It is a shame that this disc comes without any booklet or even small sheet with some information about the music. It deserves better, but it seems the label's policy as some of its other releases also omit a booklet. It shouldn't dissuade anybody from purchasing it. Philippe Pierlot is one of the world's most exciting gambists and that is amply demonstrated in this compelling recording. I should not forget to mention the excellent support of Rainer Zipperling, Eduardo Egüez and François Guerrier, who not only add colour to these performances but also show a perfect sense of the rhythmic pulse which obviously is crucial in music based on dances. They make the listener feel these rhythms, and that is how it should be.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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