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CD Review

Music from the Time of Louis XIV

  • Marin Marais: Suite à 2 Violes, 1er livre
  • Jacques Hotteterre: Troisième Suite, 1er livre
  • Sieur de Sainte-Colombe:
  • Concert, "Le Retour"
  • Tombeau, "Les Regrets"
  • Michel Pignolet de Montéclair: Deuxième Concert
  • Jacques Morel: Chaconne en Trio, 1er livre
Academy Sound & Vision Gaudeamus CDGAU240 DDD 71:39
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This CD is subtitled "Music from the Time of Louis XIV," but as that ruler held the throne between 1643 and 1715, the inclusion of Montéclair's Deuxième Concert, written in 1724, is stretching things. Otherwise, the subtitle is apt, and gives the listener a clue as to the regal delights that this CD holds in store.

The focus of this CD, apart from the era, is the viola da gamba, an instrument whose time has come and gone, although originals survive and modern copies are manufactured with loving craftsmanship. In the Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Centuries, however, it was perhaps the most important string instrument, and passionate rivalries sprung up among its finest performers and their supporters. (See, for example, the film Tous les matins du monde.) The viola da gamba is larger than the viola but smaller than the modern cello, and it sings with what seems to me to be a pleasant tenor voice.

This CD contains music that spotlights either two violas da gamba together, or viola da gamba with recorder. (a harpsichord and a lute-like theorbo serve as continuo.) Much of it is in dance forms, such as the sarabande, the courante, the menuet, and the gigue – another innovation in French chamber music of that era. The most affecting of the lot is Sainte-Colombe's Tombeau, "Les Regrets." Unlike most works in this genre, it does not seem to be dedicated to mourning the death of any one individual. Instead, its grief feels more broadly existential, in the manner of John Donne's "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." Marais's suite also ends with a fine Tombeau, this one dedicated to a certain Monsieur Meliton. (Both Marais and Meliton studied viola da gamba with Sainte-Colombe.) Montéclair's Deuxième Concert contains a striking movement named "La Rémouleur." This is the individual who sharpened your scissors and knives, and the shrilly overblown notes on the recorder mimic the scream of a dull blade as it is drawn against a whetstone.

Tientos is made up of four musicians: Johanna Valencia (recorders and viola da gamba), Jorge Daniel Valencia (viola da gamba), Thomas Boysen (theorbo), and Jürgen Kroemer (harpsichord). Their playing, while not flashy, is quietly persuasive, and they have complete control over their difficult instruments. (There are good reasons why these instruments were discarded or improved in the Eighteenth Century.) They have constructed this program with imagination, and with attention both to contrast and to musicological issues. "Music from the Time of Louis XIV" was recorded in Austria in 1999. AS&V's engineer successfully balanced intimacy against incipient claustrophobia at the recording sessions.

Copyright © 2002, Raymond Tuttle