Music and Vision homepage



Rebel: Violin Sonatas

CD Review

Jean-Féry Rebel, a shadowy figure to us now, has found most persuasive advocates in these performers. The depth of their involvement in the music easily reaches the listener, and even if, on paper, the music would not get past the foothills of Parnassus, it nevertheless comes vividly to life on this disc.

Rebel published these eight sonatas in 1713, two years before the death of his master Louis XIV. If they are music for The Sun King, then the dazzle and brilliance has certainly faded. The sunset seems not far away. Even the closing gigues are more like rustling of Zephyrs than the bustling of Boreas. Rebel's principal modes are grave, lentement, and legèrement. He dances the Courante and the Sarabande rather than the Gavotte and Bourrée, but there is so much variety of expression in the playing that what might have been no more than a pleasant melancholy wafting in occasionally from an ante-chamber reaches, and holds, the foreground of one's attention. Rebel comes across as a good deal more than a mellow charmer. His lines go up, and then they go down, but the slopes are convincingly graced with sequential elegances and decorative flourishes. Sometimes you do indeed wish for a real line, a considered sentence, rather than a geometric arc with no more destination than a seemingly formulaic cadential caprice, but the music is never tired and the playing anything but tiresome. Lully would have approved of his pupil's work: French polish and formal grace with only a nod in the direction of Italian brilliance (or vapid showmanship as some of his contemporaries would have called it). It can't be said that this is innovative writing by any stretch of the imagination, but the voice of the gamba as equal partner to the violin from time to time looks forward, rather than back, to the three dimensional texture of the trio sonatas Rebel's younger contemporaries were already writing. There's a richness here which reminds us of Purcell. The skill and intelligence of the performers here in differentiating the voices is very musical, very impressive.

If this is music for the evening of Louis' life – all passion spent, all affectations of courtly mannerisms subsumed into seamless, serious, satisfied sense, the dances removed from the clattering of feet and the excitement of courtship - then Rebel belies his name. There is something crepuscular about it. The only other piece of Rebel's which claims our attention now is the opening evocation of chaos from his ballet Les Elémens, with its extraordinary dissonances (and anticipations of Haydn), but these sonatas too deserve to be heard a lot more, especially when performed by such sensitive musicians as these.

Copyright © Peter Dale, April 12th 1999


harmonia mundi   907221
Andrew Manze, Richard Egarr and Jaap ter Linden

Rebel: Violin Sonatas

Playing time: 78m


More CD Reviews >>