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The Consort

Anne Jordan

Summer 2014, Vol. 70

Mabel Dolmetsch Anthology
for viola da gamba and harpsichord
ed. Marguerite Dolmetsch
Edition HH, HH322.fsp, Bicester, 2013
(pbk, £24.95) ISMN 979 0 708092 79 7

Many keen viol players will welcome this affectionate little book of favourite pieces from the repertoire of Arnold Dolmetsch’s third wife, Mabel (1874-1963) who rejoiced in playing her preferred instrument, the bass viol, at a time when a gamba was probably not often seen or heard, except in very narrow circles.

The Anthology is presented as an historical publication celebrating Mabel’s life and work and, with the charming photographs included, it is redolent of the past. The choice of music reflects her own tastes and pays tribute to her pioneering work in the field of early dance. This collection of her favourite pieces includes quite difficult works by Marin Marais (1656-1728), Jean-Baptiste Forqueray (1699-1782), Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (c.1640-1700) and J S Bach. These are composers whose music has now become popular among those of today’s viol players who aspire to acquire the necessary technique for the gamba’s solo repertoire.

Other familiar composers represented in this volume are the Spaniard Antonio de Cabezón (1510-66) and the French composers Thoinot Arbeau (1519-95), and Marc-Antoine Charpentier (c.1645-1704). The pieces have been provided with a harpsichord accompaniment, newly and sensitively prepared, bearing in mind Jean-Baptiste Forqueray’s principle of basso continuo playing, ‘make sure the harpsichord is kept close to the bass, ... not to find itself above the viol’, and also in accordance with today’s current thinking.

Thirteen of the twenty-four pieces are by Marin Marais, which is perhaps not surprising; these have been selected from his Pièces de Violes volumes 3 and 4 for two bass viols. There may have been a reason to play them with harpsichord accompaniment in Mabel’s time, but to perform them today without the second bass viol might, for some people, diminish their impact.

The pieces are graded in difficulty, starting with the six most straightforward, and moving in a rather steep learning curve into the high French Baroque style, with its specific bowing requirements. The anthology culminates with the second movement of J S Bach’s Third Suite BWV 1029 for gamba and harpsichord, the collection thus representing a wide range of styles for the solo gamba.

This pleasing volume is very well produced, as we have come to expect from this publisher, and includes as a Foreword ‘A Guide to the Performance of French Music’. This is a very helpful introduction to the signs employed in the music, and it provides a clear description of how to execute the ornaments required in the performance of French music. Also included in the Foreword is a section entitled ‘J S Bach: His Use of French Ornamentation’. In the actual music, individual ornaments such as mordents, and suggested examples in small print, have been numbered in the solo and harpsichord part, and are referenced back to this fuller description of them in the Foreword. There is plenty of proof of the love and care with which this volume has been prepared for publication, and it is well worth purchasing at the price of £24.95.

We are grateful to the editor of The Consort for permission to reproduce this review.
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