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Sieur DE MACHY (fl 2nd half 17th C): Pièces de Violle, 1685

[I] "Pièces de Violle"
Paolo Pandolfo, viola da gambaa
rec: Nov 2011, Franc-Waret, Église Saint-Rémy
Glossa - GCD 920413 (© 2012) (70'14")
Liner-notes: E/F/D/I/S
Cover, track-list & booklet

[II] "Pièces de violle en musique et en tablature"
Romina Lischka, viola da gambab
rec: May 27 - 29, 2012, Franc-Waret, Église Saint-Rémy
Musica Ficta - MF8016 (© 2013) (58'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Suite I in d minora; Suite III in g minorb; Suite IV in Gab; Suite V in d minorab; Suite VI in Db; Suite VIII in Aa

Sieur De Machy is a name which doesn't pop up frequently in concert programmes or discs with music for viol. That is surprising considering that he belongs to a relatively early phase in a respectable history of an instrument which was a model of French culture in the time of Louis XIV. However, it could well be that the negative assessment of the eight suites for solo viol which he published in 1685 by modern scholars has played a part here. There have been some voices of disagreement which Paolo Pandolfo quotes with approval in the liner-notes to his recording of four of these suites. He concludes his essay thus: "We are grateful to him for having once again demonstrated to us how the viol, with its endless combination of melody and harmony, of long resonances and surprising rhythmic impulses, with its incredible range of registers, was, and still is, not only a deeply fascinating but, also, complete and self-sufficient instrument".

In this sentence he refers to various aspects of Machy's compositions but also his views on viol playing which he discusses in the previous paragraphs. Machy has become especially known for being involved in a controversy about the right way of playing the viol with in particular Jean Rousseau, author of the treatise Traité de la Viole (1687). This controversy concerned two issues: the position of the left hand and the difference between the viol as a 'harmonic' (Machy) and as a 'melodic' (Rousseau) instrument. Unfortunately Machy's contribution to the debate has been lost. We only know his views through liberal quotations in Rousseau's book - of which we can't be sure that they are correct - and the composer's preface to his book of suites.

Musically speaking the controversy hardly had consequences as far as Machy's music is concerned. As Pandolfo indicates there is no strict division between the two roles of the viol, and in Machy's suites melodic episodes and harmonic passages alternate. Pandolfo points out that Machy wanted to underline the autonomy of the viol. He specifically composed suites which could be played by the viol without any accompaniment as was becoming increasingly the standard in the last decades of the 17th century. It is exactly for that reason that he emphasized the 'harmonic' nature of the viol, and stressed the importance of tenües (held notes), "namely notes that must be held even when they are no longer physically played by the bow. These are sounds whose resonance must be cultivated and prolonged so as to create harmony with the sounds successively produced by the bow". This reflects the ideal of a 'self-sufficient' instrument.

Pandolfo mentions the range of registers. That is another feature of Machy's suites: he used the full range of the instrument, which leads to a palette of colours as there is some difference between the registers of the viola da gamba, in accordance with the aesthetic ideals of the baroque era. The rhythmic impulses are closely connected to the texture of these suites. They open with a prélude which is followed by sequence of dances. Pandolfo believes that, although it is generally assumed that this kind of music was not used to accompany dancers, "the musicians had such a familiarity with those dances that it is impossible to imagine that the 'played' dances differentiated significantly from those used by the dancers." In this regard he brings up the fact that some dances are very short. "Could they be a structure to follow (and perhaps vary) until dancers have completed their dance routines?"

The latter could have inspired Pandolfo to add repetitions with "inventions of diverse nature" as he mentions in a P.S. to his liner-notes. It is one of the liberties he has taken in the interpretation of these suites. In this department the two recordings reviewed here are quite different which is especially interesting as Romina Lischke is a former student of Pandolfo. Another liberty the latter allows himself is to play pizzicato. I don't know whether this is indicated in the score, but it seems unlikely as he plays them where Lischka continues to strike her viol (in other cases it is the other way round). It is certainly true that performers were expected to take some freedom in the interpretation of a score, as Pandolfo states in the booklet, but how far one should go and what exactly falls within the scope of the interpretative freedom is a matter of debate. I have to admit that the frequent pizzicato playing started to get on my nerves after a while. Another feature of Pandolfo's performances is that he plays pretty strictly non-legato, sometimes on the brink of staccato, which is increased by his strong dynamic shading between notes. That is something I would welcome in German or Italian music, but I am not sure that is the way to play Machy's suites. Lischka is much more restrained in this respect, and sometimes goes too far in the opposite direction. Here and there I had wished her to play less legato and use some stronger accents. She also could have been a little more generous in the addition of ornamentation.

Two suites are included on both discs. I don't want to express a clear preference for one of these recordings. Lischka's interpretation probably better stand up to repeated listening, but Pandolfo's more individualistic and personal approach has its charms too. Both recordings are good cases for the quality of Machy's suites, and that is probably the most important thing.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Romina Lischka
Paolo Pandolfo

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