Fred Jacobs performs Visée’s Intimité et Grandeur for Theorbo

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COMPOSERS: Visée
LABELS: Metronome
ALBUM TITLE: Visée
WORKS: Intimité et Grandeur: 
pieces for theorbo
PERFORMER: Fred Jacobs (theorbo)
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1090

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This disc is the last in a trilogy of recordings devoted to one of Louis XIV’s favoured chamber musicians: guitar and theorbo player Robert de Visée. The theorbo – with its expansive range and burnished, resonant sound – was the Baroque equivalent to the Ancient Greek kithara or lyre, associations that certainly appealed to the Sun King, who fashioned himself after the lyre-playing Sun God, Apollo. De Visée knew how to exploit his instrument’s full potential, weaving lacy melodies and sonorous harmonies into intricate yet idiomatic textures.

As the collection’s title suggests, these 31 pieces span the musical and emotional gamut, from introspective melancholy to theatrical grandeur; indeed, the theorbo’s 14 strings seem to conjure up the entire world of early 18th-century Versailles. Suites of elegant dances, evocative character pieces, and reflective musings – liquid as blank verse – alternate with rustic contradances and tender airs. A cortège of mournful utterances includes the poignant Tombeau which De Visée carved as a musical memorial for his own daughters. In a lighter vein are arrangements of popular drinking songs and of large-scale stage-works by Lully.

Dutch theorbist Fred Jacobs charms with consummate skill and subtle grace, drawing on a range of rhythmic and expressive devices that highlight the luxuriant French idiom. His instrument – by master luthier Michael Lowe – painstakingly recreates, from 18th-century iconography, the distinctive size, shape and gut strings of the French theorbo, its silk and satin tones sumptuous as the royal bed-chamber in which these works would lull Louis to exquisite sleep.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti