Like its English counterpart, 17th-century French viol consort music is largely made up of fantasies and dances. Only a tiny proportion of this repertoire has been recorded (Couperin in 1966, Le Jeune in 1987, Du Caurroy in 1988, Moulinié in 1990 and Charpentier in 1999), so this wider survey from Ensemble Mare Nostrum is long overdue.
Listeners should be aware that the group’s organist, Leonardo García-Alarcón, has arranged some of the pieces for larger forces, notably the two-part fantaisies of Louis Couperin, and that organ or theorbo has been added to others. Purists will wish they could hear the works as they have come down to us side by side with these versions. Some are more successful than others: in the Charpentier Concert the theorbo in the Sarabande helps to distinguish the tutti passages from the solos and appropriately introduces the closing Passecaille.
Those accustomed to the leadership style of Jordi Savall in recordings of early consort music will note with interest the egalitarian approach of Andrea de Carlo’s Ensemble Mare Nostrum to this music and may wish for more polarity between the outer voices. This is especially the case when the bass is reinforced. The recording ends magnificently with Louis Couperin’s rhetorically powerful five-part fantaisies, drawing from the musicians their best playing.
Dare we hope to see a further disc from them of French consort music by Guillet, De Cousu, Métru and even the recently discovered dances for three bass viols attributed to “Monsieur Forcroy”, not to mention similar works by Sainte-Colombe, Marais and even François Couperin, to complete the picture?
Julie Anne Sadie