In the second half of the 17th century when France
was under the rule of Louis XIV it played a key part at the European
political scene but this was by no means its only role. Its culture
was at its zenith, with a host of brilliant authors, performing musicians
and composers. To the latter category belonged two brilliant gambists
who were often seen as rivals and opposite personalities. Forqueray
has become exclusively known for his music for the viola da gamba. None
of his more than 300 compositions were printed during his lifetime,
whereas Marais published five books of pieces for one or two gambas.
Those are the core of his compositional output, but he also contributed
to other genres. He wrote four operas, a divertissement and a ballet
which are both lost, and two motets which also have not been preserved.
This disc includes an important collection of music for violin, viola
da gamba and bc which was printed in 1723. It documents the changes
in Marais's orientation: for a long time he was the hero of the advocates
of a pure French style, who tried to prevent it being overshadowed by
the Italian taste. In his later music, though, Marais himself was clearly
influenced by that new style which became increasingly popular in France.
In his latest books of gamba music that influence comes to the fore.
The same can be said of the pieces in La Gamme et autres morceaux
It is telling that the longest piece in this collection, La Gamme
has the addition en forme de petit Opéra
to its title.
It is a sequence of sections in various keys, which follow each other
without interruption. It is not only the sequence of various keys which
creates strong contrasts that also flows from the variations in scoring.
In some passages the violin has the lead, in others it is the viola
da gamba that assumes a solo role. Within sections there are also fine
contrasts in content which reflects the meaning of the title: "The scale
in the form of a small opera". In his liner-notes James Johnstone writes
that "Marais suggests possible divisions of the work into two, three
or even four sections, 'so as not to bore the listener
explains the split of this piece into four tracks. There is little chance,
though, that you will be bored if you listen to this piece, certainly
not if it is played as brilliantly as it is by the Trio Sonnerie. The
specific features of this compelling piece are explored with superior
The Sonate à la Marésienne
is for violin and bc
and comprises seven movements, again of a contrasting nature. It opens
with a prelude, and continues with three dances - allemande, courante
and sarabande - then a chaconne and a gravement
. It closes with
a gigue. This is not a straighforward dance suite, as in particular
the allemande includes some contrasts. One is hard put to know what
to admire more: the way these contrasts are explored, the brilliant
performance of the chaconne, the depth of the gravement
impressive display of the rhythmic pulse in the gigue. The performances
by Monica Huggett and her colleagues are always characterised by good
taste. It is tempting to end the piece forte
, but the ensemble
opts for a more intimate approach.
The chaconne from this sonata is an example of a piece based on an ostinato
bass. That is also the case with the Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève
de Mont de Paris
. A three-note figure depicts the ringing of bells
) and the violin weaves a web of virtuosic figures over
this continuously repeated pattern. You can leave it to Monica Huggett
to make the most of such a piece.
The gamba pieces by Forqueray have come down to us thanks to the publication
by his son Jean-Baptiste who was himself a gambist. He published 29
pieces by his father and three from his own pen in five suites which
were printed in 1747. They are available in two versions: one is in
the original form for gamba and bc, the other is a transcription for
harpsichord. The artists have decided to perform the first suite in
a combination of the two versions. James Johnstone opens with the allemande
, which is followed by La Forqueray
and La Cottin
each played with viola da gamba and harpsichord. The former piece is
a self-portrait, and it seems to support what was said about Forqueray,
that he played like a devil. Emilia Benjamin makes that clearly audible,
with a strongly contrasting and dramatic performance. The second piece
is much more refined and elegant. La Bellmont
and La Portugaise
are played as harpsichord solos; the latter is a brilliant piece which
Johnstone plays with great aplomb. The suite ends with La Couperin
again with gamba and harpsichord.
The music on this disc bears witness to the high standard of music-making
and performing in the time of Louis XIV. Trio Sonnerie - which derived
its name from Marais's piece played here - feels like a fish in water.
The playing is superb, technically assured and with an impressive command
of the idiom. The refined taste which was so characteristic of French
music of the time is perfectly displayed here. The growing Italian influence
is also well documented through the theatrical playing - especially
in La Gamme
The Trio Sonnerie is one of the oldest early music ensembles, founded
in 1982. It is still going strong and has to be reckoned among the very
best at the early music scene.
Johan van Veen