Marais: Pièces de viole, Cinquième livre (Paris, 1725)

Leif Henrikson bass viol, Lars-Erik Larsson theorbo
Daphne 1050
Suites in 3, G & g

I enjoy the combination of bass viol and theorbo, it is less busy than the more usual harpsichord, and allows the viol player a wider range of dynamics, or at least, that is what one feels. Someone like Paolo Pandolfo doesn’t have any problem communicating his soft playing in any company. However, not to make invidious comparisons, this is a very enjoyable performance of three suites from the 5th and final of Marais’ great series of Livres, and it opens with the suite in E minor which concludes the book. As it happens, the Allemande of that suite is extensively marked by Marais, with enflés, doux  and fort, and Traisné, so it is a little disappointing not to hear them more exaggerated. They play seven movements from that suite (thankfully omitting the famous ‘Operation’) with an engaging deftness, frequently going his own way rather than observing Marais’ signs for enflé, or even his specifying an open string, but the playing is not without its charm.

The G major suite follows, with eight of its movements. In his publication, Marais marks those movements he describes as more difficult with what he calls a cartouche, and of the movements they choose, only one is so marked. However one has to be a very good player to play the ‘easy’ movements as well as they are played here. He has an understated approach to the chords, for example, which emphasises the bass, and his ornamentation is delightfully light. And the charming Chaconne  (with its cartouche) is given a typically poised and expressive performance.

The G minor suite, of which they play ten movements, including Le tombeau pour Marais le Cadet  perhaps demonstrates the characteristics of the player – beautifully light and deft, but ultimately lacking that rhetorical flair which can make this particular movement very affecting.

Robert Oliver