Musica Dei Donum 2010
The programme opens and closes with pieces by Louis Couperin. Today he is mostly known for his harpsichord music, but he was appointed as dessus de viole in the Chambre du Roi. Some pieces have been preserved with only two parts, dessus and bass. In the liner notes Jérôme Lejeune writes that it is inconceivable that they are to be performed with a treble viol and basso continuo. The basso continuo practice wasn't that much developed yet, and therefore the 'missing' parts have been 'reconstructed' for this recording.
Interesting is also the Fugue 5e et Caprice à 4 by François Roberday. Although it is from a collection which was published in 1660 as organ music it was printed on four staves, suggesting that they could at least be played by a consort of viols.
The latest work in the programme is by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. His Concert à 4 parties de violes is remarkable as he was one of the earliest composers in France who was influenced by the Italian style. He even left out a figured bass part. It has been added here because of the general character of Charpentier's works. This decision is also justified in the booklet with a reference to the fact that most movements are dances, and only the prelude is written in the traditional polyphonic style.
I don't know if all compositions on this disc have been recorded before. Charpentier's Concert à 4 parties de violes certainly has, even more than once, and the Fantaisies by Eustache Du Caurroy were also available on disc. And the kind of music which is the subject of this disc has been paid attention to as well. But what is nice about this disc is that it delivers a comprehensive survey of a genre which was very important in France in the 17th century. French solo music for viola da gamba is certainly very popular as the many discs devoted to the music of Marais, Forqueray and others prove. But the polyphonic repertoire for viol consort is getting far less attention.
The performances are really first-rate. The playing of the ensemble is very dynamic, and as a result often dramatic and full of expression. The players produce a warm and full sound, and the contrasts within and between the various pieces comes well to the fore. The balance between the instruments within the ensemble is very good.
The decisions in regard to performance practice as mentioned above are up to debate. The arguments in favour of a 'reconstruction' of Louis Couperin's compositions may seem plausible. But attempts to bring pieces into line with what today is assumed to have been common practice is questionable. The same is true for the addition of a basso continuo part in Charpentier's Concert à 4 parties de violes. But these decisions are at least given account for in the programme notes, and that is praiseworthy.
Johan van Veen