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GRAMOPHONE (12/2019)
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Marais: Deuxième livre de pièces de viole Product Image

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Reviewer: Mark Seow

Upon reviewing this release, I had every intention of listening to it every day until publication. Six hours of Marin Marais every day for a month: a total of 186 hours – that’s just under eight full days in French Baroque paradise. The plan was to move organically between periods of intense listening and states of vibrational immersion, simply being ‘in Marais’. As you may have guessed, listening to six hours of Marais a day is completely incompatible with modern life. But were it not – and do stop for a moment to picture that heaven – this would be one recording to have in your possession.

That does, though, bring an important question to mind. What function does François Joubert-Caillet and L’Achéron’s five-disc set have? How are listeners meant to use it, embed it within their sonic lives? There is, of course, no one answer to this, nor one way to listen to a disc set. But as other Marais recordings emerge – I reviewed the ‘generous, introspective, romantic, adventurous’ sound of Robert Smith’s ‘La Gracieuse’ (Resonus) in the Awards issue just two months ago, on which many movements of the same dances appear here too – it is reasonable to question what this sort of recorded artefact does, and whether by having a complete box-set it does that better or not.

Certainly, if you are after comprehensiveness – a complete collection of Marais’s Deuxième livre – then this release from Ricercar provides a beautiful object. The individual CDs are in separate sleeves adorned with Marais’s stunning penmanship. It feels special. The booklet notes by Jérôme Lejeune are excellent, and Joubert-Caillet’s more personal contribution is also entirely welcome. In this, we learn about more specific recording decisions – some intriguingly unhistorical – such as the use of harp and an Italian harpsichord as continuo instruments.

The recording clearly seeks variety (and knows that it must), and the different configurations of continuo support demonstrate this. The support in, for example, the sarabande ‘La Désolée’ from the Suite in G (disc 2) is plucked perfection. It is difficult to fault Joubert-Caillet’s bowed song too, a cantabile woven with nostalgia, threaded in mordent, tremblement and port de voix. What is striking, however, is the way that Joubert-Caillet and his team do not consistently pursue the heavenly that is the agenda of so many Marais performances. The moments where elegance is left outside the recording studio door, too, are extraordinary: less swirling sway, more growling funk, Joubert-Caillet and L’Achéron unleash a carnivalesque energy that does not ask listeners for consent should they not wish to dance. There are no chairs at this party. The closing Chaconne of the Suite in E minor (disc 3), once warmed up, is earthy, sweaty even. The ‘Couplets de Folies’ from the Suite in D (disc 5), another variation-scheme slow-burner, is steeped in groove and tongue-in-cheek tempo changes. In all, five discs of superb musicianship: unpredictably fun and grippingly presented.

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