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"Deth - Life: Musical thoughts about life and death"

Hamburger Ratsmusik

rec: Feb 6 - 9, 2007, Eckernförde, St. Nikolai-Kirche
NCA - 60184 (57'59")

François COUPERIN (1668-1733): 6e Ordre in B flat (Les Baricades Mistérieuses)c [3]; Suite No 2 in Aabd [4]; Charles DOLLÉ (fl c1735-1755): Suite in c minor (exc)ab [5]; Tobias HUME (c1579?-1645): Deth - Lifea [1]; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Tombeau pour Mr. de Lullyab [2]; Robert DE VISÉE (c1655-1732/3): Couranteb; La Plainte, ou Tombeau de Mesdemoiselles de Visée, Allemande de Mr leur pèreb; Préludeb

(Sources: [1] Tobias Hume, The First Part of Ayres, 1605; [2] Marin Marais, Second livre de pièces de viole, 1701; [3] François Couperin, Second livre de clavecin, 1717; [4] Pièces de Violes, 1728; [5] Charles Dollé, Pièces de Viole, avec la Basse Continüe, op. 2, c1737)

Simone Eckert, viola da gambaa; Ulrich Wedemeier, theorbob, archlutec; Michael Fuerst, organd

Life and death is an important subject in music history which comes to the fore in both sacred and secular music, and not only in vocal but also in instrumental music. The latter is what this disc is about. The title is derived from two pieces by the English gambist Tobias Hume. Otherwise this disc is dominated by French music, including three tombeaus.

Tobias Hume directly faced the reality of death, as he not only was a gambist but also a professional soldier, which has left its mark in the titles of some of his pieces for gamba solo. Two collections with gamba pieces and songs were published in 1605 and 1607 respectively. Hume is a bit of a mystery, and it is highly intriguing that he was never mentioned by name by any of his contemporaries. He was also constantly looking for patrons, but to no avail. Deth and Life are a pavan and a galliard, a very common pair of dances in the English renaissance.

The other works on the programme are very different. In France many tombeaus were written from the 16th to the 18th century. The word tombeau means 'tomb' or 'tombstone'. Originally these were poems written in commemoration of the death of real or imaginary people. In the 17th century the first musical tombeaus were composed, mainly for the lute. The first was Ennemond Gautier, who composed a tombeau for the lutenist Mesangeau. Other members of the Gautier family also wrote tombeaus and at the end of the century Jacques Gallot and Charles Mouton contributed to the genre as well. From this time also dates the manuscript which contains the three lute pieces by Robert de Visée which are played here.

De Visée is mainly known for having been the guitar teacher of Louis XIV, who appointed him as his chamber musician. The title La Plainte, ou Tombeau de Mesdemoiselles de Visée, Allemande de Mr leur père suggests it was written in commemoration of his daughters, but as hardly anything is known about his biography there is no certainty as to the real reason for the composition of this piece.

Marin Marais was the most famous player of and composer for the viola da gamba. He was a pupil of Sieur de Sainte-Colombe, for whom he also composed a tombeau. But he was also a member of the orchestra of the Opéra in Paris, which was directed by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The Tombeau pour M. de Lully is a virtuosic but first and foremost deeply moving piece in commemoration of someone who played an important role in his career.

The third tombeau is by Charles Dollé, and is from his only book with pieces for the bass viol, which was printed as his opus 2 around 1737. He is one of the last representatives of the long and rich tradition of French viol music. In his time the viola da gamba was overshadowed by the violin and the cello. On this disc five movements from the Suite in c minor are played, and one of them is the 'Tombeau pour Marais le Père'. Very little is known about his life, but his music shows the influence of Marais. The tombeau is a rondeau in a chordal style in which especially the high register is used and the composer asks for vibrato. The fact that 'le Père' is added to Marais' name is because his son Roland was also active as a gamba player. The tombeau is preceded by a 'prélude' whose character isn't that different from the tombeau, and the beautifully swinging 'allemande La fière'. The tombeau is followed by a sarabande and a vivid character piece, called 'Les Amusements'.

François Couperin didn't compose many pieces for the viola da gamba, just two suites. The Suite No 2 in A is the shortest, with four movements. It contains much polyphony, beginning with a 'prélude' which is followed by a 'fuguette'. The third movement is called 'Pompe funèbre', and is a tombeau but in name. It shows the same gravity and amount of expression as the best of the tombeaus in French music history. The suite ends with a virtuoso piece, called 'La Chemise blanche'. The title is difficult to explain, and Simone Eckert's suggestion it could refer to a burial shroud seems a bit far-fetched, considering the overall character of the piece.

With the exception of the pieces by Dollé the repertoire on this disc isn't unknown, although in particular the Suite in A by Couperin isn't that often performed. But the concept of this disc is certainly interesting, and the music is first-rate. Simone Eckert delivers very fine performances, with much feeling for the expressive character of the tombeaus. The swaying rhythm of the 'allemande La fière' from Dolle's Suite in c minor is very well exposed, and Couperin's suite is also given an excellent performance. Ulrich Wedemeier does equally well in the pieces for theorbo by De Visée, with a particularly moving performance of 'La Plainte'. The only odd thing about this disc is that in Couperin's suite an organ is used in the basso continuo, instead of a harpsichord.

But that is the only reason for criticism, as this disc offers almost an hour of beautiful and captivating music.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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