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"Tombeau pour Mr de Ste Colombe et autres portraits ..."

Ensemble Spirale
Dir: Marianne Muller
rec: Nov 12 - 17, 2007, Paris, Église St Marcel
ZigZagTerritoires - ZZT 080302 (© 2008) (69'09")

Jean-Baptiste FORQUERAY (1699-1782): La Couperin; La Forqueray; La Laborde; La Leclair; La Rameau; Denis GAUTIER: Tombeau de Gautier; Ennemond (Vieux) GAUTIER: Les larmes de Boisset (Courrante); Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Tombeau pour Mr de Ste Colombe; Tombeau pour Mr Lully; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): La Forqueray; La Rameau; Jean DE SAINTE COLOMBE (?-c1701): Concert I Le Retrouvé à deux violes esgales; Prélude

Marianne Muller, Emily Audouin, viola da gamba; Claire Antonini, lute, theorbo; Charles Edouard Fantin, lute, guitar; Violaine Cochard, harpsichord

In the booklet of this disc Marianne Muller writes: "In our new programme we have the pleasure of presenting a group of French musicians who throughout the seventheenth and eighteenth centuries painted each other's portraits, or their self-portraits, generally with considerable wit". The French were fascinated by the portrait. It was an important subject in music, but also in literature and painting. And, as one would expect in an era in which the concept of l'art pour l'art did not exist, and which was strongly rational in its approach of what we call 'art', the phenomenon of the 'portrait' was a subject of theorizing as well.

Portraits were supposed to have strong likeness to the person who was portrayed. François Couperin, in the preface to his first book of harpsichord pieces, writes that his portrait-like pieces "have sometimes be found to be quite good likenesses". The Encyclopédie which was published between 1751 and 1772 wrote that "each person has a distinctive character that must be captured" and that "resemblance is the chief perfection" of any portrait. It wasn't just real people who were portrayed. Painters, writers and musicians also tried to capture the human psychology and to describe characters and their respective temperaments in their works.

But this disc concentrates on real human beings, most of whom were famous musicians, as one will gather from the tracklist. One genre is particularly typical for French music of the 17th and early 18th century: the Tombeau. This means 'tomb', and pieces like this were written as a kind of musical tombstone. The two Tombeaus by Marin Marais are both written in honour of people who meant a great deal to him. Jean de Sainte Colombe - generally called 'Monsieur (or Sieur) de Sainte Colombe' - was his teacher on the viola da gamba. His Tombeau pour Mr de Ste Colombe is a moving tribute to his beloved teacher; his sadness is expressed through falling motives, chromaticism, sighing figures and suspensions. Jean-Baptiste Lully was director of the Opéra and Marais played in the Opéra's orchestra before he was 20 years old. The Tombeau pour Mr Lully is quite different from the first in that it is very dramatic and full of contrasts, probably reflecting the fact that Lully was first and foremost a man of the theatre.

Jean-Baptiste Forqueray was a harpsichord virtuoso who in 1747 published a book with five suites for viola da gamba and bc which he claimed to be composed by his father Antoine, who had died two years before. There is some doubt as to what was really written by the father and what by the son. Many pieces in this book are musical portraits, either of characters or of real persons. Among these are two of Forqueray's colleagues: Jean-Marie Leclair who was an internationally renowed violin virtuoso - which is well reflected in the virtuosic nature of Forqueray's portrait - and Jean-Philippe Rameau, who was to become France's leading opera composer and whose first opera was performed in 1733. The third piece is La Laborde; his identity isn't known for sure. Rameau also wrote a piece called 'La Laborde' in his Pièces de Clavecin en concert, but that seems to refer to a pupil who was just 11 years old when Forqueray senior died.

In the same Pièces de Clavecin en concert Rameau for his part created a musical portrait of Forqueray, although it isn't quite clear whether he had the father or the son in mind. He also gave a portrait of himself, as did Forqueray - another typical feature of the time. The information in the booklet is a bit confusing in regard to the pieces by Le Vieux Gautier and Denis Gautier. Les larmes de Boisset (not Boesset, as the tracklist has) is a tombeau for two lutes in honour of Antoine Boesset (1586 - 1643), who was at the service of the royal family and the leading composer of 'airs de cour'. In the booklet this piece is attributed to Denis Gautier, but in the tracklist to le Vieux Gautier, or Ennemond as his real name was, and that is in line with the information given in New Grove. Denis Gautier was his cousin, and the composer of the Tombeau de Gautier. In the booklet this piece is called Tombeau pour lui-même, suggesting he composed a tombeau for himself. I can't find any further information about this, and I think it is more likely that Denis wrote it in honour of his uncle.

Considering the number of tombeaus there is certainly quite a lot of gloom and sadness on this disc, but other character pieces bring some relaxation. The last item is rather light-hearted: Marin Marais La Marianne, which I assume is included with a wink to Marianne Muller herself. It is a nice piece to conclude this disc of portraits of musicians of the ancien régime.

I can't find anything to criticise about this recording. I have thoroughly enjoyed these performances, which are passionate and full of rhetorical gestures in order to communicate what the composers wanted to express. The differences between the two Tombeaus by Marais are well reflected in the performances, for instance in the use of dynamics. There is some nice ornamentation and much attention has been given to the rhythmic pulse. Anyone interested in the viola da gamba or in French baroque music in general shouldn't miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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