Marais; Saint-Colombe

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Marais; Saint-Colombe
LABELS: Paradizo
WORKS: Pièces de viole: in C minor, Book III; in G minor, Book V; in G, Books III & V; Sarabande for Two Viols in D minor, Book I (Marais); Concert XLVIII (Saint-Colombe)
PERFORMER: Josh Cheatham, Julien Léonard (viola da gamba, bass viol), Skip Sempé (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: PA 0006

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This debut recording by Josh Cheatham, together with fellow gambist Julien Léonard and harpsichordist Skip Sempé, explores the mean and moody sound-world of Marin Marais and his shadowy teacher Sainte-Colombe.

The players combine discrete, soloistic virtuosity with a keen mutual rapport: eloquent conversationalists, they are fully versed in the idioms and subtleties of the French Baroque language, sensitive to its courtly politesse and layered nuances.

In their stillness and grace, these accounts have an almost sculptural quality – surface decoration and embellishments emerging organically from the finely-shaped infrastructure.

Cheatham’s inky tone, offset by the harpsichord’s gilded sound, underscores the music’s stark, melancholy colours. Close microphones spotlight details of line and ornament while the resonant acoustic enhances the viola da gamba’s opulent timbres.

The influence of dance is ever palpable here but, unlike some interpreters, Cheatham et al eschew balletic delicacy in favour of muscular vigour. Indeed, these are supple yet gutsy realisations.

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On the accompanying DVD, the trio performs a selection of Marais’s pièces as well as tracks by Telemann and Hotteterre. It’s a visual treat, particularly for anyone unfamiliar with the performing techniques of these instruments – objects d’art in themselves. Kate Bolton