Marais: Pièces Favorites

François Joubert-Caillet, L’Achéron
75:53
Ricercar RIC364

This is a sampler for a forthcoming project to record the complete five Livres de Pièces de Violes  of Marin Marais. It has been initiated by Jérôme Lejeune, musicologist and himself an accomplished viola da gambist, familiar through many recordings on the Ricecar label, which he heads. He has commissioned François Joubert-Caillet, and the ensemble L’Achéron, to record them. This introductory disc gives a taste of what we might expect, with a selection of pieces from each of the five books.

It is the second disc by L’Achéron I have heard. The first was a recording of Ludi Musici, a publication of dances by Samuel Scheidt, which I reviewed earlier this year. In that recording François Joubert-Caillet directed the ensemble playing treble viol, in what I felt was a superb performance.

On the evidence of that, and now this recording, he is an outstanding virtuoso and musician. The opening piece, Prélude en Harpegement, from the 5th book (the one in F major) is beautifully played, poised, controlled and wonderfully eloquent. It is followed by a succession of well-known pieces from all five books: L’Arabesque, Le Rêveuse, Feste champêtre, Les Voix humaines, Tombeau pour Mr de Sainte Colombe, 18 tracks in all, most of them familiar from many recordings by so many marvellous players. Couplets de folies  also appears, but in an apparently earlier and shorter version found in an Edinburgh manuscript.

His approach is fairly literal, mostly following Marais’ directions, but free in his approach to tempo, for example in La Guitare, (and thankfully isn’t tempted to pluck any of it). The accompaniments are beautifully played. He is joined by the second bass viol in pieces for two viols from Book I, and the sound is wonderfully full and lush, but always clear.

With such a galaxy of superb recordings from which to choose, why buy this one? Well the playing certainly makes it worth it. He plays with complete technical command, excitingly brilliant in the rapid passages, moods ranging from tenderly lyrical to dramatic, with a great variety of attack. One can only look forward to the progress of the undertaking with great anticipation.
The booklet has a brief essay from the player, and a more extended one from Lejeune. Information about the instruments played is a bit sparse, with nothing about the solo bass viol, and hopefully that will be provided in future as the series is produced over the coming years. It is a mammoth undertaking, and, to my knowledge, if completed, will the first time this has been achieved. Played with this level of insight, sympathy, brilliant virtuosity and eloquence, it promises to be fully worthy of Marais’ wonderful legacy.

Robert Oliver