Marais • Forqueray
Marin Marais is justly celebrated for his brooding viol music, but much less well-known are the chamber works with violin featured on this disc. Sunny, felicitous pieces, they nod towards the then newly fashionable Italian idiom. The works include a hypnotic chaconne, in which the composer spins inventive and exotic variations over a relentless ground bass imitating chiming church bells, and the monumental trio La gamme en forme de petit opéra, a kaleidoscope of dances, fugues and changing timbres, inspired in part by Marais’s experience in the opera house.
With its founder violinist, Monica Huggett, still at the helm, Trio Sonnerie has been going strong for more than 30 years now. Huggett’s playing is pliant and effortless, her distinctive sound very much the ensemble’s hallmark. Gambist Emilia Benjamin makes light work of Marais’s virtuoso passagework, though the viol is sometimes is a little distant in the texture, while James Johnson offers robust, sinewy playing on an opulent-toned copy of a late 18th-century harpsichord. Some of the contrasts in La gamme might have been highlighted rather more, especially given the work’s dramatic conception, and the chaconne chimes are hammered out as if there’s no tomorrow. Elsewhere, these gracious accounts rarely fail to please. The disc also includes a selection of character pieces – by turns capricious, colourful, contemplative – by the Paganini of the Baroque viol, Antoine Forqueray, engagingly played by Benjamin and Johnson.