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Best of French Baroque
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728) Alcyone: Suite [11:53]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764) Dardanus, RCT35: Suite [22:08]
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687) Phaėton, LWV61: Suite [14:24]
Jean-Joseph de MONDONVILLE (1711-1772) Dominus regnavit: Grand motet [24:42]
Colin Ainsworth (tenor), Robert Kinar (tenor), Andrew Mahon (baritone), Ann Monoyios (soprano), Michele DeBoer (soprano)
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra/Jeanne Lamon, Ivars Taurins
rec. various venues, 2001, 2006, 2009 and 2012. DDD.
NO texts.

Reviewed as lossless download from eclassical.com (also available in mp3, both with short pdf booklet) and on CD from some suppliers.

Having made several distinguished recordings for Sony and other labels, many of which are still available for streaming or download or on CD from ArkivMusic, Tafelmusik have recently been reissuing many of their earlier recordings on their own label.  This release is a sort of sampler for their recordings of the French repertoire.  I’m not sure about the ‘best of’ label, but at least we have complete works or substantial suites from three acknowledged masters of the period and a distinguished runner-up. 

A companion German volume, on the other hand, consists of bits and pieces of the music of Bach.

The ‘best of’ albums appear to be available as downloads only from some dealers: not all have the discs, despite the ‘CD’ suffix to the catalogue number.  With only a very rudimentary 4-page booklet which does not contain the text of the Mondonville or any information about the music other than the track listings, you might expect them to be offered at budget price but they are in fact full-price releases, at around £16 where available in the UK on CD, with downloads at around £8 (the eclassical.com download costs $13.22).  On the other hand the performances, all but the Mondonville directed by their distinguished former director Jeanne Lamon, who retired in 2014, are anything but cut-price in quality.

Tafelmusik’s stylish recording of the Alcyone Suite also appears on a CD + DVD release entitled House of Dreams (TMK1020DVDCD) which John Sheppard enjoyed as a musical experience though he found the visual aspect on the DVD less to his liking – review.  I can certainly endorse his statement that the playing is on top form.  It’s both stylish and foot-tapping and I only regret that we have just four items here out of the eight on House of Dreams.  I’m glad that they include Tempeste with its thunder and lightning effects.

The Suite from Dardanus contains nine of the sixteen tracks, 22 minutes out of 36, on another Tafelmusik own-label release where it’s coupled with Suites 1 and 2 from Le Temple de la Gloire (TMK1012CD, CD or stream/download from classicsonlinehd.com, no booklet).  The original release of that recording marked Tafelmusik’s first foray into the realm of the French baroque, though you wouldn’t think so from the quality of the playing.  So good is the performance, in fact, that I recommend getting the more complete offering, since the suites from Le Temple de la Gloire are equally enjoyable.

The Phaėton Suite on the other hand, is best enjoyed on the French Baroque album: Tafelmusik’s performance is also available on a concept album entitled The Galileo Project, where it’s the most substantial part of a rather bitty programme.  If the Suite leads you to the complete recording of this opera from Les Talens Lyriques and Christophe Rousset (Aparté AP061 – review) so much the better.  To the purchase options in that review please add Presto.

Ignore the classicsonline button – it’s available for subscribers to stream or to purchase from the new classicsonlinehd.com: 16-bit here, 24-bit here.  Neither COL nor eclassical.com, however, offer the booklet, which I understand is a de-luxe affair, and the downloads cost little less than the CDs – more if you go for 24-bit, especially from eclassical – please see end of my review of Outhere group releases.

The concluding Mondonville motet, directed by choirmaster Ivars Taurins, may seem to make a strange bedfellow, especially as it’s much later than the other music and there is a first-class alternative recording from Les Arts Florissants and William Christie, coupled with two other Mondonville motets, which you may already have (Erato 0630177912).  The quality of the performance, however, more than makes up for the slight incongruity.  It makes a fine conclusion to a fine programme, though the lack of text is very regrettable: it’s from Psalm 92 (93)*.

The recordings, made over a period of twelve years, are all very good.

Though I prefer the Dardanus suite in its more complete form on the alternative release which I have mentioned and the booklet is rudimentary, I derived great enjoyment from this stylishly performed recording.  It would make a good introduction to the French music of the period but more seasoned lovers of the Baroque will enjoy it too.

Brian Wilson

* Dominus regnavit, decorem indutus est: indutus est Dominus fortitudinem, et pręcinxit se.  
Etenim firmavit orbem terrę, qui non commovebitur.

Parata sedes tua ex tunc; a sęculo tu es.
Elevaverunt flumina, Domine, elevaverunt flumina vocem suam; elevaverunt flumina fluctus suos, a vocibus aquarum multarum.
Mirabiles elationes maris; mirabilis in altis Dominus.
Testimonia tua credibilia facta sunt nimis; domum tuam decet sanctitudo, Domine, in longitudinem dierum.

The Lord is King, and hath put on glorious apparel; the Lord hath put on his apparel, and girded himself with strength.
He hath made the round world so sure, that it cannot be moved.
Ever since the world began, hath thy seat been prepared: thou art from everlasting.
The floods are risen, O Lord, the floods have lift up their voice; the floods lift up their waves.
The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly; but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier.
Thy testimonies, O Lord, are very sure: holiness becometh thine house for ever.
[Book of Common Prayer translation: closer to the Latin than modern versions]


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