En Suite

Romina Lischka gamba, Sofie Vanden Eynde theorbo
72:28
Paraty 814129
Music by Marais, Ste. Colombe, de Visée

This is a marvellous disc. The pairing of theorbo and bass viol is a potent one, sometimes played separately (de Visée, Ste Colombe) sometimes together (Marais). Romina Lischke is a pupil of Paolo Pandolfo and Philippe Pierlot, and she clearly shares with them a very attractive impulsiveness, and a brilliant technique. She plays what I guess might be a copy of a Colichon (the booklet doesn’t tell us about the instruments) – it has a lovely, bright, pleasingly astringent top string, with a very sonorous middle register and a booming bass. The recording is made in a generous acoustic, but there is no issue of clarity. Both instruments are closely miked, and the result is a very atmospheric and intimate sound, which perfectly suits the music they have chosen.

They open with a suite of seven Marais dances, cherry-picked from all five books, in E minor or G major, and conclude with an eloquent rendering of Marais’ Tombeau pour Mr de Ste Colombe. This is followed by a suite in D made up of Preludes and dance movements, alternating Ste Colombe and de Visée for solo viol or solo lute. The final tracks feature three of Marais’ character pieces: Les Vois humaines, La Rêveuse, and Le Badinage – yes, the famous one in F sharp minor from the film.

It is very satisfying listening. I very much enjoyed the beautifully poised lute playing, both solo and accompanying, but my focus is on the music from the so-called Tournus Manuscript, of pieces for solo bass viol by Ste Colombe. I recently reviewed the edition of this manuscript published by Güntersberg, and I’ve found exploring the music fascinating and stimulating. As many players will know, it shares with the well-known duets many unmeasured bars, not just the notes perdues but fully written-out roulades. What makes them more interesting is that there are some quite detailed instructions for bowing, which all work out very well and are very informative. His music is quite unlike that of his pupils, or anyone else for that matter, and his melodies take unexpected turns. His harmonies are unorthodox, and clearly arise out of his improvisations, so wedded are they to the technique of the instrument. As the developer of the silver-wound bass strings he clearly loves the possibilities offered by the new clarity of the bass strings. He must have been a marvellous player, and he does require from a modern player a great deal of understanding and intuitive insight, as well as a brilliant technique. These performances abundantly fulfil all these requirements, and his music comes across as enormously appealing. One can discern the effect he must have had on his most distinguished pupil. De Visée’s music is more conventional, but no less compelling, and of course that of Marais is great. Open a good Bordeaux, light some candles, turn off the lights, and let the music cast its potent spell.

Robert Oliver