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GRAMOPHONE (12/1992)
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Astrée E 8761


Reviewer: Julie Anne Sadie

For more than a decade, the playing of Jordi Savall has in many ways epitomized the elegance and spirit of the French viol school. One has only to listen to the tentative recordings of the 1970s to appreciate the present state of his art. His many concerts, recordings and of course his role in the creation of the recent Depardieu film about Marin Marais and his legendary teacher (Sainte Colombe), Tous les matins du monde, have accustomed a following unimaginable to the viol's original Louisquatorien exponents to the considerable charms of the instrument and its repertory.

This CD of excerpts from the third book of Marais's pieces de viole (1711), recorded earlier this year, surely represents Savall's latest thoughts. As always his playing is supremely assured, indeed commanding. He is joined once again by Ton Koopman and Hopkinson Smith, who provide varied and colourful accompaniments that admirably suit his interpretations though that for the prelude of the 0 major Suite is positively celestial and possibly more evocative of the Palm Court than the petit cabinet du roi. Not surprisingly, they are at their best in the character pieces, such as the Grand Ballet in A minor, the rondo and "La Brillante" in D major, and " La Magnifique" of the G major Suite. These performances are never short of technical skill or panache.

There is one issue worth raising: it is the degree to which players today feel compelled to enslave themselves to the composer's performance indications. Increasingly, articulate voices are speaking out against sterile and pretentious efforts to recreate in minute detail a composer's original intentions; and yet, how can we ignore the pleas of those such as Marais (and Couperin, to name but one of his fraternity), who wrote in the preface to this very book of pieces that he hoped the public would take note of the care he had taken over the preparation of the collection? In particular, he took special pains to introduce the enflé (swelled) bow stroke, indicated in the music of his engraved edition by an 'e', which warned the player against strongly articulating the beginning of the note and instead creating a crescendo by gradually pressing the middle finger directly on the hairs of the bow, then releasing them within a single stroke, " sometimes at the beginning of the beat or on the value of the dot as indicated". That this effect was fundamental to Marais's style is evident from his assertion that, by employing it, "pieces, which would otherwise be too uniform, are endowed with soul".

Without having the music to follow, listeners can't know the extent to which modern players adhere to the implications of Marais's enflé markings, for they are after all a refinement of technique. But they do undeniably effect the shape of phrases and the tension created by the richly endowed harmony of this repertory. That Marais so precisely notated this effect (in , for example, pieces like the sarabandes in A minor and G major, the D major Fantasie and , above all, the deeply affecting Plainte) and begged the playing public to adhere to them seems justification-in this collection more than any other-to attempt to re-create them faithfully. This Savall fails to do with any consistency. To be sure, he observes some of the 'e' marks, adding others (not wholly inappropriate) where not indicated, but most disturbing to a practised ear is the inconsistency of their application. I find it difficult to believe that this occurs by accident, for Savall is a master of gesture, and I can only conclude that he feels it his artistic prerogative to override Marais's explicit instructions. A small point, you may say, given that the recording is superb in almost every other way, but nevertheless an interesting indicator of present attitudes about performing early music.

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