FLEUR DE LYS: THE SOLO SUITE BEFORE BACH • Charles Medlam (bs viol); William Carter (thb) • CELLO CC 1028 (71:04)
Works by DUBUISSON, HOTMAN, MACHY, SAINTE-COLOMBE, MARAIS
The Bach suites for solo cello are a remarkable monument for performers, exploring the immense possibilities of the instrument as it began to emerge from the continuo group. These works did not, however, emerge out of thin air, but rather were the result of a fairly common genre in FranceRead more during the preceding century, performed on the bass viol by a cadre of musicians associated with the court of Louis XIV. At least one film has been made on the most famous of these people, Jean de Sainte-Colombe and Marin Marais, his student, and their works are fairly well represented in the repertoire. Composers Nicolas Hotman (1610–63), the Sieur de Machy (died 1692), and Jean Laquemant le Sieur de Dubuisson (died 1688) are perhaps less known, but all contributed to the flourishing of dance movements, many of which coalesced into suites by the middle of the 17th century.
This disc presents suites from four of these composers, and as a filler, the oft-recorded Tombeau pour M. de Ste. Colombe from Marais’s second book of works published in 1701 is appended, no doubt to fill out the disc with a familiar work. This is a fine rendition by viol player Charles Medlam of all of the works, a small tithe of the more than 500 pieces written for the instrument during the period. The most primitive of them (and primitive is a relative term) is the Hotman suite, which begins with a paired sequence of allemandes and concludes with a variation on a popular tune called The Scolding Wife. The remaining three begin, as with Bach, with a fantasy-like prelude, and both the Machy and Sainte-Colombe conclude with a stately chaconne. In between in all of the works can be found the usual sequence of fast and slow dances ranging from the solemn sarabande to the lively gavottes and gigues. There is a certain sameness about the music, which is to be expected from works for this instrument in this period, but the interest lies in the subtleties rather in the overall impression of the works. For example, in the Dubuisson, the prelude’s occasional double-stops indicate that this is multivoiced music, rather than a single line. In the corresponding movement of the Sainte-Colombe, for which a page of the manuscript score is provided in the fine booklet notes, one can follow along a progressive accelerating rhythmic structure, with leaps between octaves (and clefs) that reach a powerful ascending line as a climax. The lyrical, sentimental melody of the Tombeau, on the other hand, flows smoothly, eliciting an emotional response to the death of Marais’s teacher. The gigue in the Hotman piece is as danceable a movement as one can imagine, even as it requires the listener to pay attention to the numerous registral shifts and the implied bass line that supports the tune.
With the exception of the Hotman, all of these works have been recorded before: the Machy on Telefunken, the Dubuisson in 1996 by Jonathan Dunford on Ades, and of course both the Sainte-Colombe and Marais have numerous renditions. Charles Medlam’s performance, however, is superbly interpreted, emphasizing the strong dance structure with a fine sense of phrasing that brings the music to life. I particularly like his varied ornamentation, performed with taste. The only reservation is the Marais, where he is joined by theorbo player William Carter performing a continuo part. Here I prefer the recording by Jérôme Hantaï on A la Voix, which approaches the practice of the period better in my opinion. For some reason, Medlam uses a rather obvious vibrato, which, although an authentic ornament in the period, makes the work almost seem too modern to my ears. While this sort of single-instrument recording may not appeal to everyone, if you are a fan of 17th-century French music, this is a recording you will want to have in your collection.
OutstandingAugust 9, 2014By Samir Sobhy (East Meredith, NY)See All My Reviews"The CD has a selection of 5 works for bass viol (alternatively called viola da gamba), by French composers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is generally believed that the instrument was invented in Spain in the 14th Century, and then introduced to France in the 15the century, where it became very popular with composers and the public, and from there it was apparently introduced to Germany, England and Italy. While it became popular in England in Germany, curiously it was less popular in Italy. This is evidenced by the large number of music wrote for the instrument in France, as well as in England and Germany (though less than France), but much less in Italy. The 5 pieces in the CD are presented in order of the time of their composer: the first being Nicolas Hotman (1610-1663), and the last being Marin Marais (1656-1728), with Dubuisson (??-1688), de Machy (??-1692), and Sainte-Colombe (1615-1701), in the middle. All pieces (except that by Marin Marais), are in the solo suite form, comprising a number of 'dances' in various 'fashion' and speed. These are mainly allemande, courante, sarabande, bourre, ballet, gigue, prelude, chaconne, and gavotte. All pieces are in 'minor', but in various keys. They are rather slow, even in some 'dances' which are usually a little fast! All this gives a mood of serenity, sadness, and melancholy. The music is wonderfully played by the British 'gambist' Charles Medlam, accompanied by William Carter (American) on the theorbo for the Marain Marais piece. The CD has an exceptionally well-written and informative booklet giving interesting information on the music and each composer. I highly recommend it for those lovers of the bass viol (like me), and those who would like to be introduced to it!"Report Abuse