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Trio Sonnerie - La Gamme -

18 February 2013
James Manheim
4½ Stars

The three pieces by Marin Marais on this release were published as a set in 1723, and it's remarkable that they've received so little attention over the years. Marais was even worried that La Gamme might "bore the listener," and indicated that he was OK with its being divided into sections. About half an hour long, it is a remarkable work. Marais' subtitle describes it as "en un forme d'un petit opéra," which is a bit of a conundrum: formally it includes a variety of dances in the manner of a suite, but not operatic melodies. "La Gamme" means The Scale, and the work is organized into a series of sections that rise through the diatonic scale from C to C, with very brief transitions between them.

The operatic element is not really in the form but in the mode of expression of the instruments in the trio, which offer exclamations and humorous asides that are all but verbal. Violinist Monica Huggett of the veteran British historical-instrument ensemble Trio Sonnerie catches the quirky quality of these to a T, and really this work is worth the purchase price on its own. But the other two Marais pieces, detailed and very French explorations of the ground bass idea, are equally exciting, and the viol pieces by Antoine Forqueray offer a lovely interlude filled with rays of light in the less intellectually involved manner of the following generation. 

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