French viol music reimagined to audacious effect

Jean-Guihen Queyras: Marais

The Strad Issue: February 2023

Description: French viol music reimagined to audacious effect

Musicians: Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello) Alexandre Tharaud (piano)

Works: Marais: Pièces de viole: selections from Books 2–5

Catalogue number: HARMONIA MUNDI HMM 902315

Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexandre Tharaud exploit Marais’s suggestion (made in Book 3) that his pièces de viole could be played on various other instruments, including a solo keyboard. They focus on the Suite in A minor that opens Book 3 but intersperse its various movements with pieces largely from three of the composer’s other collections. Queyras’s attempts to reproduce Marais’s prescriptive notation and radiate empathy with the bass viol’s colourful sound idiom mostly convince, especially in the higher registers, but many of Tharaud’s inventive accompaniments seem deliberately anachronistic.

The duo’s varied programme ranges from the quasi-improvisatory meandering and rhetoric of two Préludes (from Books 2 and 3) to the exhilarating bravura variations of ‘Couplets des Folies’ (Book 2), the operatic ‘Grand Ballet’ (Book 3), a rustic Musette (Book 4), the poetic, emotional portrait of ‘La Rêveuse’ (Book 4), the bloodcurdling portrayal of ‘Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille’ (Book 5), the provocative ‘Sonate à la Marésienne’ and the dynamic vigour of dances such as the somewhat slick gavotte and light gigue (Book 3). Further variety is provided by two solo items, Queyras performing ‘Les Regrets’ (Book 2) and Tharaud giving a telling account of the enigmatic ‘Le Badinage’ (Book 4).

The recording gives a generous bloom to the tone of Queyras’s 1696 Gioffredo Cappa cello without obscuring detail and nuance.