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Histoires d’un Ange

Johanna Rose (viola da gamba), et al (Rubicon)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Histoires d’un Ange
Couperin: Passacaille ou Chaconne; Marais: Pièces de viole, Book II – Cloches on Carillon; Book III – Prélude, Gavotte & Grand Ballett; Book IV: Suitte d’un Goût Étranger – excerpts; Book V – Prélude en Harpègement; Chaconne; Rameau: La Marais in D; Visée: Passacaille
Johanna Rose (viola da gamba), Josep Maria Martí Duran (theorbo), Javier Nuñez (harpsichord)
Rubicon RCD1041   60:02 mins

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The ‘angel’ whose stories are told here is not, despite the arresting booklet photographs of her sporting fluffy wings, the German-born, Madrid-based viola da gamba player Johanna Rose. Rather it’s the 17th- and 18th-century French master of the instrument Marin Marais, who was described by contemporaries as playing ‘like an angel’, and who soared from humble origins to a position at court and the conductorship of the Paris Opéra.

Groups of pieces by Marais, mostly from Books II to IV of his Pièces de viole, are interspersed with single works by Robert de Visée (a Passacaille featuring the theorbo), François Couperin, (another Passacaille but with solo viol) and Jean-Philippe Rameau, whose solo harpsichord piece is named as a memorial tribute to Marais.

Johanna Rose’s selection from Marais’s output includes some of his more ambitious pieces, both in length (meaning five minutes or so!) and in the degree of virtuosity required. The more taxing episodes, such as the rapidly changing chords towards the end of ‘Grand Ballet’ and the furious passage-work of Le Tourbillon (‘The whirlwind’), seem to put a strain on her technique, with a suspicion of scratchiness heightened by a close recording. Elsewhere, she produces a lovely singing tone for the more meditative numbers such as La Rêveuse (‘The dreamer’); and her two accompanists are sensitive and inventive, combining to produce colourful bell sounds in Cloches ou Carillon. But for an all-round view of Marais, seek out the calmly authoritative Robert Smith on Resonus (reviewed in the November issue).

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Anthony Burton