Kagami Mirror viola da gamba Ramee RAM2204

Kagami – Mirror
Kaori Uemura (viola da gamba), Ricardo Rodríguez Miranda (viola da gamba), Aline Zylberajch (harpsichord)
rec. 2022, Église de l’Assomption, Basse-Bodeux, Belgium
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download
Ramée RAM 2204 [64]

This is the second solo recording which the Japanese viola da gamba player Kaori Uemura has made for the label Ramée. The first released in 2020 was entitled ‘Yuu’ (review). This disc also bears a Japanese title. Kaori Uemura explains it in her liner notes thus: “The ancient (yamato) and modern Japanese word for mirror is kagami: if you look in a mirror, what you see is your own self (ga) surrounded by divinity (kami). I have called this tale Kagami, because I believe that music reflects the inner depths of the self in the same way as a mirror.”

As in her previous recording, Uemura has made a very personal selection of pieces from England, France and Germany. She was inspired by this quotation from William Shakespeare’s play As you like it: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” This explains the division of the programme into three acts, preceded by a Prologue and closed by an Epilogue. In her liner notes, Kaori Uemura explains which sentiments the various pieces evoke for her. One does not need to feel the same way in order to enjoy the pieces she has recorded.

The Prologue includes one piece, Good againe, by Tobias Hume. He was one of the most brilliant viol players of his time, although strictly speaking not a professional musician/composer, but rather a soldier, which has left its marks in his two collections of songs and viol pieces. In a way, he was a forerunner of the French baroque composers for harpsichord and for viola da gamba, in that most of his compositions are character pieces – and like these, their titles are often hard to interpret.

Obviously, pieces by Marin Marais cannot be omitted. There is much to choose from, as he published five books of pieces for viola da gamba and basso continuo. The French gambist François Joubert-Caillet recorded all of them in five volumes, comprising twenty discs. Kaori Uemura starts with a prélude en harpègement; the title is clear enough; it is dominated by arpeggios. La Fougade (the title is spelled as foucade in Joubert-Caillet’s recording, and means ‘whim, caprice’) is a capricious piece from the Suite d’un goût Etranger. These two pieces are followed by two movements from Bach’s Sonata in D (BWV 1028) for viola da gamba and obbligato harpsichord. It is one of the effects of such a personal choice that pieces are not recorded complete. Another movement is performed later in the programme.

The second act includes just one piece, the 1e Suite in G by Charles Dollé. Very little is known about him; a recording of his three suites for viola da gamba and basso continuo bears the title “the anonymous Parisian”. That is partly due to the fact that he never held a position at court. It seems that Dollé was mainly active as a teacher of the viol. In 1737, he published four collections of music, the second of which was a set of three suites for viola da gamba and basso continuo. As each suite by a French composer, the Suite in G opens with a prelude; it is followed by seven further pieces, most of them character pieces, such as Allemande Le Mantrÿ and Musette La Favoritte. Notable is that there is no chaconne; in fact, all of Dollé suites omit a chaconne or a passacaille, which is highly unusual. Dollé shows a strong predilection for the then popular form of the rondeau; an example is La Badine, which closes the suite. For me, this suite is the highlight of this disc. It is hard to understand why Dollé’s suites are little-known and seldom performed. Le Tendre Engagement is a magnificent piece, which is performed with the required tenderness by Kaori Uemura. Thanks to a clear differentiation between good and bad notes, the preceding Allemande Le Mantrÿ feels like a dance, and listeners may find it hard to keep their feet still.

The third act opens with the third movement from Bach’s Sonata in D. This act has a rather sad character; this piece is followed by a transcription for viola da gamba solo from Dido’s Lament in Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. I tend to be sceptical about such transcriptions. The practice was widespread, but that does not mean that each transcription works well. When I saw this in the track list, my expectations were not high, but I was pleasantly surprised. Thanks to the viola da gamba’s capability of playing polyphonically, one of the expressive means of this piece – harmony – is not absent. The spirit of the piece comes off rather well, also thanks to the sensitive performance by Kaori Uemura. François Couperin composed only two suites for viola da gamba and basso continuo, but these are considered masterworks. From the second suite Kaori Uemura selected Prompe funèbre, which is a kind of tombeau, but otherwise it is hard to say what exactly Couperin is trying to express here. The addition très gravement is a clear indication of its character. The slow tempo lends the piece a kind of solemnity which suggests a sort of procession (towards the tomb?). The act closes with the andante from Bach’s Italian concerto. It is a piece for harpsichord, but its character invites performances with an instrumental ensemble. Such have been recorded, but this is a different performance: the upper voice is given to the viol. Again, it works pretty well, although I found the harpsichord part a bit ’empty’. Maybe Aline Zylberajch should have filled in the spaces.

In the Epilogue Kaori Uemura returns to Marais, with a Fantaisie from his second book of 1701. It is meant as a kind of return from the rather gloomy atmosphere of the third act. Kaori Uemura writes: “I chose this Fantaisie as the setting in which a deceased soul continues its journey to the next stage while remembering how far it has come. It can also return to this stage. At which point, Good againe, let’s enjoy this world to the full.”

So, another fine album. I was impressed by Kaori Uemura’s previous disc, and this is a worthy sequel. I like the selection of pieces and the way she has ordered them in the programme. I am especially happy with the suite by Dollé, whose music deserves to be better known. We know that Kaori Uemura has for many years been a member of various ensembles, and it is nice that in recent years she has been given opportunities to show her great skills as a soloist. I urge any lover of the viola da gamba to investigate this disc and add it to their collection. Ricardo Rodríguez Miranda and Aline Zylberajch are the perfect partners in this project, and the programme has been excellently recorded.

Johan van Veen

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Tobias Hume (c1569-c1645)
Good againe
Marin Marais (1656-1728)
Suite in F [1725]:
Prélude en harpègement
Suite d’un goût Étranger [1717]:
La Fougade
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Sonata in D (BWV 1028): 
adagio; allegro
Charles Dollé (c1710-1755)
1e Suite in G
Johann Sebastian BACH
Sonata in D (BWV 1028): 
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas (Z 626):
Lament of Dido (When I am laid in earth) (transcription: Ryosuke Sakamoto)
François Couperin (1668-1733)
2e Suite in A:
Pompe funèbre
Johann Sebastian Bach
Italian Concerto in F (BWV 971): 
Marin Marais
Suite in A [1701]: