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Fanfare Magazine: 38:5 (04-05/2015) 
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Reviewer:  Bertil van Boer

Mr. Viol of the 17th century was surely French composer Marin Marais (1656–1728), whose collections of music for the instrument were seminal. A virtuoso on the various viols of the time, he was the successor to the famed Sainte-Colombe, who raised the music for the instrument to a high standard (and in modern times was featured as the paternal genius behind his two daughters in the film Touts les matins du monde). Marais, however, proved to be the more prolific composer for the viol, publishing no fewer than five volumes of works, mainly suites, during the years 1686–1725. He was certainly the equivalent of François Couperin in terms of creative output, and like virtually all composers of the ancient régime he was aware that, although his music was meant primarily for his own instrument, it was adaptable to whatever was at hand. In the preface to his third book from 1711 he notes specifically that one could perform his works on organ, harpsichord, violin, viola da gamba, theorbo, guitar, transverse flute, recorder, and (as here) the oboe. Of course, this meant that the extreme virtuosity and special effects found in the originals had to be revamped, but Marais himself provided some indications on how this was to be done if these manifold alternates were to be used. First, he advocated transposition by either a whole or half step, restricting the part to the upper line (in the case of the winds and violin), and then relegating items such as arpeggiation, doubles stops, etc. to the accompanying continuo.

The result is quite effective. For example, the Courante of the first suite in C Major is genteel and proper, with precise ornaments, followed later on by a rollicking Gigue entitled “La folette” which trips along with happy abandon. This gives the final Gigue a more rustic quality, a sort of rocking rhythm. The “Rondeau champêtre” of the G-Major Suite likewise has a very Lullian quality, with a strummed percussive gamba part that soon rises to support the line in parallel thirds, a nicely balanced texture. The muzettes of the G-Minor Suite have a mournful, even mysterious quality to them, with the grinding bagpipe drone and occasional rhythmic punctuations lending emphasis, while the second part has a repetitious imitation of an organ grinder in its wandering line. In the E-Minor Suite, the Sarabande “à l’Espagnol” is a stately dance, with the oboe pairing in measured steps against the gamba, like two elaborately dressed ladies circling one another.

Oboist Christopher Palameta takes his Hotteterre replica and runs it through the paces in these suites. His tone is suitably subtle (which is the effect that the Hotteterre family members were trying to achieve in their instruments) yet steadfast, and he phrases all of the music with good taste, suitable and yet restrained ornamentation, and an excellent sense of rhythm. The continuo group is a wonderful foil, adding depth and subtlety to the textures Marais envisioned for his suites. The recording sound is clear and live, which is the best way to appreciate this rendition and make one wish for these pieces to be recorded on the other alternative instruments as well. It demonstrates perfectly that the keyboard was not the only sought-after chamber instrument in France during the ancient régime. This is one disc that is excellent and well worth having in one’s collection, particularly if one wishes an example of the social music of that age.



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