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Trio Sonnerie - La Gamme - Audiophilia

30 April 2013
Andy Fawcett

I've let a number of very appealing releases from Linn get away from me in recent months - Corelli's Opus 6 Concertos chief amongst them - but, as a long-term fan of violinist Monica Huggett and her Sonnerie ensembles, their first disc for the Scottish label signalled time to stop the rot!

The viola da gamba remained popular in France long after it began to slip into obsolescence elsewhere in Europe, and the pinnacle of that great tradition is represented by two charismatic figures; Marin Marais and his younger contemporary, Antoine Forqueray. Expected to resist the tide of Italian influence that had long since swept the rest of the continent, and maintain the purity of the classical, dance-based French suite, in his final years Marais instead constructed 'La Gamme'; a rambling, 35-minute work of unprecedented scope and variety that has been only rarely recorded.

Indeed, it is difficult at first to get a grasp of the work's intent and structure - it seems most closely to resemble a set of variations, as it latches onto different themes and explores their harmonic and rhythmic possibilities. I recommend just sitting down with it, and see where it takes you! Also included are the other two works published by Marais in the same volume in 1723 - all for the combination of violin, gamba and harpsichord - the first in more traditional form, while the latter's insistent three-note ostinato is almost reminiscent of modern ‘trance' music. From Forqueray comes the first of several suites for viola da gamba with accompaniment, published posthumously by his son in 1747. Also offered at the time in transcription for solo harpsichord, this recording is unusual in choosing to alternate between both versions. It is a work darker in character, as was its creator by all accounts, stately and imposing but played here with vibrancy. Linn's sound quality is very fine, with great bass power but also excellent balance (this latter not always the case in times past) - though be warned that it's also the first of their discs I've encountered in conventional CD format only, offering neither a SACD layer nor HDCD encoding (the latter a largely unlamented omission, I suspect, except by we few disc-spinning dinosaurs whose players can still decode it!). 


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