The popularity of the film Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World) has revived the fortunes of the shadowy composer named Sainte-Colombe, who was active in the late seventeenth century. The film was largely fictitious, but subsequent research, much of it nicely summarized in the notes to this disc, has shed light on who Sainte-Colombe might have been, and has shown that the filmmakers, and the novelist (Pascal Quignard) who wrote the novel on which Tous les matins du monde was based, made some good guesses about him. Some of the world's top players have recorded his music for the viols that figured so heavily in the film, and this two-disc set, by the Canadian bass-viol pair of Susie Napper and Margaret Little, is part of a series covering all of Sainte-Colombe's compositions for "deux violes esgales," two equal viols. It's a fine performance, and an informative presentation of the music. Napper and Little don't have the shimmering, ecstatic feeling that is Savall's specialty, and that he revealed on the film's soundtrack. But they approach the music differently, and cogently. Sainte-Colombe's "concerts," having between one and five movements, open with a descriptive Ouverture that is often as long as the rest of the movements, usually short dances, put together. Each piece takes its name from this opening movement, which, unlike the descriptive pieces of Couperin or Rameau, often has an abstract title referring indirectly to the structure of the music itself -- often, what the title putatively describes is the kind of conversation represented by the music. Thus the first work on the disc is subtitled "L'attentif," The Attentive One. In this work, one viol is silent for much of the work, as if listening to the comments of the other. An early manuscript copy actually explains the meanings of the titles: one work is called "Les récits" because "each part takes turns reciting." Other titles may describe a work's mood, but all of them have the flavor of a unique conversation between two individuals. It is this quality that Napper and Little capture effectively. Their tempos are generally brisk, but each player emerges as a lively individual. Anyone intrigued by Sainte-Colombe should check this set out, for it introduces the composer in detail and offers a sympathetic performance of his music.
Sainte-Colombe: Concerts a deux violes esgales, Vol. 3 Review
by James Manheim