- Easter Viol School
- The Score
- Saraband Music
- CD Reviews
- Jenkins 6 part consort music - Phantasm
- Moved by Marais - Ralph Rousseau Meulenbroeks
- Viols on the web
- Marais Project 2007
- Sydney Consort Days
- Voices and Viols
- Jenkins Book
- Dieter Kiessler
- Technical Tip
- Consort Eclectus
- Editions Guntersberg
Moved by Marais
Ralph Rousseau Meulenbroeks, viola da gamba, with Pieter-Jan Belder, harpsichord, and Rémy Baudet, violin. STS digital 611168
The celebration of Marin Marais' 350th birthday last year was somewhat overshadowed in the wider world of classical music by coinciding with the 250th birthday of W.A. Mozart. This may possibly explain why, as far as I can tell, no new recordings of Marais' music was issued during 2006 apart from this one.
Ralph Rousseau Meulenbroeks is a name that was new to me when I was asked to review this recording. A quick search on the web brought up a rather colourful personal website that outlines a very impressive CV which combines conservatory training on double bass, in his home country The Netherlands, with a PhD in physics. He went on to play double bass with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, simultaneously developing a career in jazz, pop and rock. He took up the gamba in 1996, studying with Jaap ter Linden, participating in a number of masterclasses including one with Pierre Pierlot, and performing with some of the big name early music conductors, particularly in performances of the St Matthew Passion.
Previous recordings, also on the STS digital label, include a recital of gamba music, Voix Humaines, a program of Christmas Carols arranged for gamba, and another recital, GAMBAMANIA, which is available as a SACD recording and as a DVD of the concert.
Moved by Marais is something of a Best of… type recital recording including Les folies d'Espagne, the dramatic Le tableau de l'opération de la taille, along with the Gmajor Suite from the Third Book, and the G minor Suite and a few sundry pieces from the Fifth Book. Meulenbroeks is joined by Rémy Baudet on violin in Sonnerie de Ste. Geneviéve to conclude the recording.
With this program of his most popular works for viola da gamba, it would be good to report that this is the must have recording of the Marais year, however despite the auspiciousness of both the program and occasion of this recording, it is something of a disappointment. The playing projects assuredness, however the overuse of vibrato, and a lack of clear articulation combined with a lack of richness in the tone in the upper registers, regrettably betrays an incomplete mastery of the technique required for this repertoire.
Perhaps more disappointing is the feeling that Meulenbroeks hasn't completely grasped the spirit of Marais' music. In the more introspective movements, the tempos lack the expansiveness required for rumination on the musical ideas, and in the dance movements the articulation lacks the pointed clarity required to express the subtle grace of the music rooted in the dance ethos of the French Baroque.
Meulenbroeks obviously aspires to being something of a superstar in the world of the viola da gamba. It would definitely do great things for the promotion of the viola da gamba having a young charismatic master of the instrument. However, despite his aspirations, Meulenbroeks shows on this recording that he has not quite reached the level of artistry of the older generation of masters.
This CD is downloadable from Magnatune
Viols on the Web
Don't forget to check our web page out frequently as it is being constantly updated. The latest development of that we now have free pdf downloads of music edited by our own Ruth Kelly. Two pieces so far - Fair nymphs, I heard one telling... by John Farmer and a 7 part canzona by Giovani Gabrieli.
We do not often hear about music competitions won by viola da gamba players or for viola da gamba players but a couple I came across recently are:.
- Trinity College of Music, London
The 2006 Isabelle Bond Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Performance was Ibi Aziz, viola da gamba. The competition was fierce but it was viola da gamba player Ibi Aziz who won The Isabelle Bond Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Performance on Thursday 13 October 2006 at Blackheath Halls. Six players, selected by each Head of Faculty for their excellence in performance, competed for the Gold Medal prize. But it was the Early Music department that produced the winner. Ibi Aziz played Johann Schenck's Sonata I in D minor, from Tyd En Konst-Oeffeningen with Iason Ioannou, baroque cello and Jamie Akers, theorbo and Telemann's Sonata in D major for unaccompanied viola da gamba from Der Getreue Music-Meister (1729).
- The Bach-Abel International Viola da Gamba Competition
This competition was held in the German city of Köthen (Anhalt) on 23-29 October, 2006 for the third consecutive year. The competition was divided into various eliminatory rounds in which performers performed various required works. The works specified for round one were by Tobias Hume, Johann Schenck and Abel. Those who reached the second round performed works by Buxtehude and Marais, as well as two free choices, one contemporary. In the final phase, works by Francois Couperin, Bach and Abel were performed. The jury consisted of Siegfried Pank (President), Wieland Kuijken, Marianne MÃ¼ller, Paolo Pandolfo and Pere Ros. The Competition is open to performers born after 1 July 1974, that is, musicians under the age of 32. There are two special prizes of 5,000 euros and three prizes of 3,500, 2,500 and 1,000 euros respectively, as well as other minor prizes.
Unfortunately I can find no reference to who won the competition and whether or not it is being held again this year.
Three interesting pages on Marin Marais are:
The site also includes St Colombe, with this month's featured CD that of Jordi Savall playing Forqueray suites.
Interesting biographical notes and some nice pictures. The discography is very limited.
This is more detailed than the previous two.
Some useful advice for members going to Hawaii is provided by the Pacific branch of the american society at:
Airplane Travel Tips
- Pack your viol in preparation for the worst--it might be taken away from you and flung onto a baggage carrousel, perhaps landing upside down. Use the strongest case you can find. Lower the strings a bit but not so much that the bridge could fall. Secure the neck with cord and pack small cloth items around the pegs, neck, and bridge, and under the tailpiece. Bits of foam or your underwear work equally well. Secure the bow with twist ties so it doesn't fall on the viol, and protect the top of the viol further with a piece of foam or more socks. Since airline cabins and baggage holds are terribly dry, include a Dampit or sponge inside a plastic bag. Pack extra padding around the instrument so that the viol cannot move inside its case and, most important, support both sides of the bridge. Lock and/or tape the case.
- Aim first to get the viol on the plane with you in the passenger cabin.
- If you have a treble or tenor, hold your viol unobtrusively at your side and don't mention it to the airline staff ahead of time. Just walk on as if you had every right to be carrying this long thing. You may have good luck boarding with it if the plane is not full. Try to be one of the first passengers to board, for the obvious reason that you must find overhead bin space for your viol. Overhead bins are especially large on 757s.
- If you have a bass, all bets are off, and you will do well to assume the air of a famous soloist on his/her way to a concert that very evening, carrying an irreplaceable instrument that if damaged would break the hearts of ticketholders from around the world.
- If all these tactics fail and you are stopped at the boarding point, this is ideal, for if you have gotten this far, you can be sure your instrument will be hand-carried to the baggage compartment. If you're lucky, it will be the last item loaded and the first item unloaded, also hand-carried at your destination. At the moment of relinquishing the viol, slap a huge sticker on it that says "HAND CARRY."
- When retrieving your checked viol, look quickly in odd places such as "Outsize Baggage" areas. If it's hand carried, it may end up there. But as soon as the carrousel starts to spit out bags, station yourself or a friend right at the opening in case your viol is spit violently out.
- If you are fairly sure your viol well be wrested from you and flung heartlessly on a carrousel, you might prepare as Washington, D.C.-area performer and teacher Tina Chancey recommended in the June 1998 issue of the VdGSA News: make a gamba duffel.
- A five-foot-long gamba duffel. "While nothing in this life is sure," wrote Tina, "I've used my gamba duffel for six years now to carry my Tourin six-string on more than 60 flights ... and nothing has broken yet." She created a duffel out of heavy-duty canvas. Inside she puts a mattress of dense 3-inch foam to support the neck. She pads the instrument as usual, locks it in its case and stands it on its side inside the duffel and mattress. The result is disarmingly light and bouncy, she says, like a Pillsbury Dough Boy, and she thinks its comical shape and blue color disarm airline check-in personnel--usually she doesn't have to pay over-size charges.
Bob Buzzard of San Diego has an ingenious method that also gets you a little revenge on the baggage handlers: Pack your viol inside its case and pack the case inside a huge box, clearly labeled fragile and identified, but that includes no handle. "If they can't pick it up by a handle," says Bob, "they can't fling it."
A little away from the viola da gamba but nevertheless a development of interest to many members is that all of Mozart's music is now available on line for free from: http://dme.mozarteum.at
Technical Tip - Chordal Playing
Good string crossing is the basis of chordal playing. Once the basic bowing techniques are underway there are many ways to play chords depending on the style and character of the music in question. It is a good idea to practice the bowing ideas on open strings while concurrently mastering the principles of lute fingering pizzicato.
Use the following checklist as an introduction for the bowing:
- Parallel bowing that follows the arc of the bridge for each string.
- Keeping the bow the same distance from the bridge with a point of contact that allows for a clear resonant sound and close string crossing.
- Understanding and adjusting the level of the arm for each string or double strings.
- An awareness of the varying mass of each respective string and the ability to vary the arm weight and tension of the hair accordingly.
- Controlling the speed and division of the bow.
Start by doing some silent 'rocking' from string to string in the middle of the bow without any lateral movement, concentrating on points 1 –3. Keep the movement smooth, concentrating on a relaxed elbow. Think 'hand in' on the lower strings, pushing out with the hand to the higher strings. When this is comfortable, progress to moving the bow in arppeggiated patterns or spread chords. First cross 2 strings at a time using a crotchet, dotted crotchet pattern. Do this on each set of 2 strings making sure the bow is parallel with the bridge both before and as you play. Carry on to 3 string crossing, then 4, and continue until you are crossing all 6 (or 7) strings altering the rhythm by converting first to quavers and then semiquavers for the 5, 6 and 7 note arpeggiations, always ending up with approximately a dotted minim on the final upper note.
Now start introducing chords with less spread, i.e. two strings being played simultaneously. It doesn't need any greater physical effort; merely balance to set the bow equally on two strings. You will need to play a little further away from the bridge where there is less tension on the strings to facilitate playing two strings at once. Always work with the idea of arm weight and pull-push rather than vertical pressure that will stifle the sound.
Helpful hints to avoid common pitfalls.
Keep a very steady, slow bow on the crossing, making sure you have sufficient bow to make a good sound on the final note. It is a common fault to bow too fast on the crossing, running out of bow for the final note.
By thinking through the hand (in – out) with close string crossing and a steady smooth arm movement, the elbow levels should look after themselves and avoid arriving at the top with an uncomfortably high arm or shoulder. Work with gravity at all times.
When you arrive at the final note take care to keep the bow straight. It helps to think via the fingers at this point, 'directing' the tip of the bow parallel to the bridge by gradually opening the hand by pushing the fingers out. A common fault is to carry on the semi circular movement when playing a longer final note.
Keep the string crossing as economical and close as possible. Telltale signs of doing otherwise can show with a build up of rosin on the inner curves of the ribs adjacent to the bass and treble strings. Always stay close to the adjacent string.
Always aim for resonance without force on the bass strings so that the sound continues. Let the top string 'sing'.
Stay on the same amount of hair throughout the chord with a constant elbow – hand level. This will help to avoid playing on the stick or the instability of a sagging wrist. Watching the stick can help.
There are various ways to play chords depending on the musical context.
Christopher Simpson writes that an isolated chord should be played with a forward bow but if chords follow on successively one needs to bow forwards and back accordingly. The chordal examples that Simpson gives are wonderful examples of lute fingering, the principles of which need to be understood before embarking on chordal playing. Barring only with the first finger for reasons of string clearance, contracting two fingers into the space of one fret or extending with the first and second fingers over successive frets are a start (which could be gone into more fully in another newsletter).
Tablature follows the lute tradition and is full of chords. Understanding the dynamic and character of the chord within its musical context will define the choice of a soft, spread chord or one of a more robust, thicker texture. Sometimes one has to play successive short chords with three notes at a time!
Marais is specific as to whether the chord should be spread or otherwise. However this only appears in the third of his five books of Pièces de Viole. The diagonal line under a given chord means that this is an arppegiated or spread chord.