French composer Marin Marais (1656-1728) was remarkably prolific, writing nearly 600 compositions for viola da gamba, as well as many operas. One of his major collections of music for the gamba is Suitte d'un Gôut Etranger, a collection of 33 short works written, according to the composer, "to stretch the skill of those who do not like easy pieces." Jordi Savall, the most acclaimed gamba player of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries, who is responsible for bringing many of Marais' works to light, plays with extraordinary virtuosity and expressiveness.
Like many of his contemporaries, Marin Marais has paid the price of his proximity to some outstandingly brilliant musicians. Between Lully and Rameau we can still cite Charpentier, Delalande, Campra and François Couperin. But what about the others? The Destouches, Mouret and Marais pale beside the stars of a fertile era which was rocked by controversy. The school of harpsichordists and organists, who were no match for Lully’s vocal art, are still represented in the repertoire of present-day performers: D’Anglebert, Lebègue, Dandrieu, Grigny and Clérambault are still played on our instruments. But Marin Marais had the misfortune not only to compose operas in Lully’s domain, but also to devote the bulk of his art to an instrument which was being eclipsed by the advance of the violin family… namely, the VIOLA DA GAMBA or the BASS VIOL. And it is only recently that we have rediscovered the specific manner of playing this instrument as well as the composers who wrote for it.
Marin Marais (31 May 1656, Paris – 15 August 1728, Paris) was a French composer and viol player. He studied composition with Jean-Baptiste Lully, often conducting his operas, and with master of the bass viol Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe for 6 months. He was hired as a musician in 1676 to the royal court of Versailles. He did quite well as court musician, and in 1679 was appointed "ordinaire de la chambre du roy pour la viole", a title he kept until 1725.wiki
Between 1975 and 1983, Jordi Savall recorded five albums including the most beautiful pieces from each of the five ‘Books of Pieces for the Viol’ composed by Marin Marais between 1686 and 1725. A silence of nearly 250 years came to an end. A repertoire - and even better, an instrument - returned from oblivion.
“The most substantial pieces here are the set of variations of La folia, and the Tombeau pour M-deSte Colombe in memory of Marais's mentor. His idiom embodies a paradox that's peculiarly French, in that it demands a very high technical standard, yet its proper expression requires the utmost restraint. The young Finnish viol-player, Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, is a founder-member of Phantasm. Here he holds his own with elegance and reserve, although in the slower pieces one might have wished for more rhythmic flexibility. The continuo section consists of another viol-player, and a theorbo or harpsichord (though in the variations on La folia, the two are combined). This works well for the most part, though the high partials of the harpsichord tend to drown the viols: the lute is far less obtrusive…”
This beautiful recording, once long out-of-print, is now remastered in high definition multi-channel hybrid SACD, and is the first album made by Jordi Savall for the Astrée label, now reissued on Alia Vox. With this rare 1975 disc, Savall confirmed François Couperin as a master composer for viola da gamba with affinities to the previous masters of French music. On the recording Mr. Savall plays an authentic 7-string bass viol, anonymously constructed in 17th century France. He is joined by musicians Ton Koopman playing a Gilbert des Ruisseaux harpsichord built in the late 17th century and Ariane Maurette playing a Barak Norman bass viol constructed in London in 1697. Couperin’s music for these colorful instruments is marvelous, contemplative and beguiling. The highly collectible album, a must-have of the Savall oeuvre, is now available again and features a very informative booklet.
Jordi Savall, once more time, shares with us a beautiful program of instrumentals and chorals pieces from the middle age. Alfons X El Sabio Cantigas are the most popular music pieces about this period, but also really majestic. The sound of this album is really magic. A very good choice for a first approach…
"By the end of Middle Ages the monks of Montserrat had assembled a distiguished library. Unfortunately this was largely destroyed in 1811 during the Napoleonic wars. The most precious surviving medieval manuscript in the Scriptorium at Montserrat is undoubtedly the famous Ms. No. 1, known as the Llibre Vermell or Red Book of Montserrat, from the colour of the late 19th century velvet which covers the binding of the codex. The manuscript completed in 1399, originally contained about 172 double pages, or folios, of which 35 have been lost. Included in the Llibre Vermell are ten musical works - possibly more originally - by a number of unknown composers."
If he were so minded, Jordi Savall might hand copies of this CD out to new acquaintances as the musical equivalent of a calling-card. True, he appears here only in the guise of soloist, whereas a more complete portrait would need to include samples of his work as director and conductor; but as an illustration of the range of the viola da gamba, this generously filled disc is exemplary. And although the calling-card might not be handmade, it is the nearest thing to it, since Alia Vox is Savall’s own, newly established label.