Les Elemens: Marais and Rebel - Palladian Ensemble - Gramophone

Here is a recording of Rebel's programmatic orchestral suite with a difference. It takes the 1737 printed source at face value, reflecting the stripped-down score that was feasible to publish, rather than Rebel's original full score. This is musique de chambre rather than de cour or de théâtre. Purchasers of this and other music of the time were encouraged to perform it on whatever instruments they had to hand; but this was at heart a marketing ploy and didn't represent a broadening of what was then considered good taste.

Susanne Heinrich, the skilful viol player of both the Palladian Ensemble and Charivari Agréable, is an industrious reviver of this practice. Her heart - and those of the rest of the group - is certainly in the right place, even if her ears and aesthetic sense occasionally let her down. To anyone who has heard Les Elemens performed by an orchestra, this version will sound thin once past the profusion of over-tones created by the dissonance of Chaos.

By choosing to set a recorder against a violin and to employ a theorbo, Heinrich has made Rebel sound 'foreign' (as though performed abroad rather than in Paris). That may have been her underlying intention, but in French music of the day, recorders were never paired with violins (before Lully introduced the transverse flute into his orchestra in the 1680s, they played in pairs or doubled the oboes and/or the violins); secondly, by the 1730s the theorbo had been emphatically eclipsed by the harpsichord as a continuo instrument.

If the textures sound odd, the dynamics and articulation are at least effectively projected. The avian movements (tracks 3 and 4) are charmingly brought off; the Loure, with its arpeggiated references to hunting calls, amuses too.

In Marais' music, Heinrich experiments with expanding solo and duo bass viol textures, increasing the tessitura of the music to accomodate the violin and recorder, again with mixed results. The most successful arrangement is that of the Folies d'Espagne, in which William Carter discards the theorbo for a Baroque guitar. Again, in the manner of a performance at home, Heinrich performs the Prélude of her A minor collation (drawn from different books of Marais' pièces) and all the G major as it was written, for bass viol and continuo. She plays beautifully.

01 May 2004