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Charles DESMAZURES (1670-1736)
Pièces de Simphonie (1702):
Suite I in E minor [28:00]
Suite III in C major/minor [23:04]
Vespres d'Arnadí/Dani Espasa
rec. Capella de l'Esperança, Barcelona, 26-28 February 2008. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

This is such a beautifully designed debut disc for new Catalan label Musièpoca that it would be worth the asking price even if it heralded the latest thing in pop pap. The fact that the music is in fact exhilarating, superbly recorded and performed with consummate musicianship by Vespres d'Arnadí, whose members are drawn from the likes of Les Talens Lyriques, Le Concert des Nations and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, makes this without doubt one of the finest CD releases of the year.

From the purple and white colour scheme to the choice of font, from the reproductions of period paintings and engravings to the biographical and technical detail provided, the booklet is a pleasure not just to read but simply to look at. The CD case itself is made of card, all of which adds to the marvellous feeling of antiquity engendered by the music and performance. Rosa Gomis is credited with graphic design and both she and executive producers and label management Pere Saragossa - additionally oboist and note-writer - and Dani Espasa, the musical director, deserve a mention in this review for their excellent production. It is almost as if this is what an early 18th century CD would have looked like!

By a quirk of fate - bad weather, in fact - thirteen-year-old Queen-to-be Maria Luisa of Savoy fetched up in Marseille in 1701, where French composer Charles Desmazures was cathedral organist. Desmazures dedicated to her a set of seven suites; these Pièces de Simphonie appear to be his only surviving works. His music is in the style of the suites of Lully or more closely, the ballet music of near-contemporary Jean-Féry Rebel, and just as magnificent in its elegance, lyricism, nostalgia and mellifluousness.

The two Suites performed here have eleven and sixteen movements respectively, of between one and four minutes in length. They both open with an Ouverture and close with a Chaconne, but apart from this Desmazures apparently made few stipulations regarding playing order of the remaining dance movements and character pieces, other than a basic alternation of fast and slow items. Sensitive also to the make-up of ensembles at the time, Desmazures built in a flexibility of instrumentation.

The Vespres d'Arnadí play on period instruments, all duly listed in the booklet (albeit in Catalan). Their choices - mainly violins, flutes and oboes, tastefully augmented with an array of period continuo, percussion and the like - are not just authentic but inspired, allowing them to imbue Desmazures' music with vivid colour and striking texture, enhanced further by their very thoughtful tempi. The Vespres d'Arnadí are named partly after the time of day music such as this would be heard by bourgeois and noble families over a meal, and partly after a traditional sweet dessert of southern Spain. As a taster for this disc, the antepenultimate movement of Suite III, 'Les Rêveries', is quite exquisite.

Only three minor quibbles, though it seems almost churlish to mention them: firstly, the CD booklet goes into a slot that is not designed to last - it will inevitably tear at one side. Second, the translation into English of the Catalan notes is less than idiomatic, heavily influenced by the Iberian formulations of the original. For example: "the epoch immediately posterior to Lully", "While, in the 17th century, unlike what occurred in other European courts, ..." and "the Pièces de Simphonie recuperated in the present recording". The translation is signed by someone whose name suggests a native English speaker, yet it is hard to credit that these awkward phrasings come from such a source: why would we repeatedly encounter "C mayor", "B-flat mayor", "G mayor". Finally, there is one small technical blip halfway through track 17, like a speck of dust slightly jerking the tracking - with luck only affecting the review disc.

There is more to come from Musièpoca on the theme of music related to the War of Spanish Succession - in fact, two further Catalan-themed CDs have already been released, and a fourth is due out shortly. What a treat they promise to be!

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