Rebel: Violin Sonatas

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Violin Sonatas
PERFORMER: Andrew Manze (violin), Richard Egarr (harpsichord), Jaap ter Linden (viola da gamba)
Jean-Féry Rebel, like Pachelbel or Albinoni, has always been thought of as a one-piece composer – the piece, in his case, being ‘Chaos’ from Les éléments, with its strikingly dissonant first bar. So this recording of his violin sonatas is a real ear-opener: as one of his contemporaries put it, Rebel adroitly combined Italian ‘genius and fire’ with ‘French wisdom and tenderness’. All these qualities are amply evident in these works, from a luscious, reflective Sonata in B minor – that ‘solitary and melancholy’ key – to the eccentric playfulness with which Rebel opens another of the sonatas here, in A minor. These are majestic, expansive accounts, their opulence enhanced by the melanous hue of low French Baroque pitch (and the consequent reduction in string tension), as well as the spacious recording. By the sound of it, the musicians have lavished considerable rehearsal time on these performances, and the combined chemistry of Andrew Manze’s passionate playing and seductive ornamentation, Richard Egarr’s detailed, occasionally flamboyant keyboard style, and Jaap ter Linden’s assured viol playing, makes for a highly charged effect. Those who know Manze’s reputation as a ‘gypsy’ or as the ‘Grappelli of the Baroque’ may be surprised by the elegant composure of his playing here; but in an age of French music when ‘reason governed passion’, his restraint is perfectly apt. Kate Bolton