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Comédie et Tragédie: Volume 1
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687
Suite from ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’, Comédie-ballet, LWV43 (1670) [18:12]
Jean-Féry RÉBEL (1666-1747) Les Élémens, Symphonie nouvelle, (1737-38) [24:33]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728) Suite from ‘Alcyone’, Tragédie en musique, (1706) [24:17]
Tempesta di Mare Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra/Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone
rec. Gould Recital Hall, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 9-11 June 2014. DDD

This is the first volume of what is planned as a pair of recordings of Music for the Theatre from the baroque period.  All three pieces here fit the theatrical category, though the Rébel was originally conceived as a symphonie, with dance added later.

There was certainly room for a twenty-minute selection of music from Lully’s opera-ballet Le bourgeois gentilhomme, somewhere between the single-movement Chaconne des Scaramouches which opens the Aradia Ensemble’s Music for the Sun King (Naxos 8.554003) and complete recordings on CD (Accord 4721522) and DVD (Alpha ALPHA700).  There’s a similar selection from Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall on Alia Vox (AVSA9807) and an elderly Deutsche Harmonia Mundi budget-price 2-CD set coupled with Campra’s L’Europe Galante (88697576312).

Kevin Mallon takes his period-instrument Aradia players at quite a pace through the opening track on that Naxos recording and, as that is a recording that I play pretty frequently it has rather spoiled me for other interpretations.   Tempesta di Mare on the new recording play with a much cleaner orchestral style but I’d rather have Mallon’s team run the music a bit ragged – they decorate Handel with kazoos on another recording – than have the music sound somewhat over-refined.

Jordi Savall and his team also give the music greater vigour than you find on the new Chandos, not just in the Chaconne des scaramouches but throughout the Suite, and I prefer their recording to Tempesta di Mare, especially as it couples the Bourgeois Gentilhomme suite with more delectable music by Lully, from Alceste and Le Divertissement Royal.

The representation of chaos which opens Rébel’s Les Elémens must be the most remarkable piece of music composed in the baroque era, though you wouldn’t necessarily think so from the new recording.  On a recording like that by L’Orfeo Barockochester conducted by Michi Gaigg (Phoenix 110, download only, or CPO7779142 – review and DL News 2014/8) or AAM/Christopher Hogwood on Decca L’Oiseau-Lyre (see below) or Musica Antiqua Köln/Reinhard Goebel (see below) it’s a six-minute roller-coaster ride of disharmony, gradually opening up to harmony, representing chaos turning to order at the Creation.  Turn to Tempesta di Mare and the discords are still there but somehow they all sound a little more genteel, as if God had tidied up the jarring elements in a trice.

The Hogwood recording forms part of the limited-edition budget-price set The Baroque Era (4786753, 50 CDs, or two 25-CD downloads) which I made Bargain of the Month and the Goebel also comes in a multi-disc set (DG Archiv 4791045, 55 CDs).  Both can also be downloaded separately.

That leaves the Marais Suite from Alcyone and here again the chief competition comes from Jordi Savall on a recent reissue containing all four of the Suites d’airs ŕ jouer which Marais made from this work (Alia Vox SACD AVSA9903 – review).  Johan van Veen would have liked that recording to have been rather more incisive and it certainly leans a little more to the sedate than would be the case from these performers now.  Savall actually takes his time over the overture a little more than Tempesta di Mare but still sounds more positive overall.

By the time that I came to the Marais Suite I had warmed a little more to the Chandos album, especially as the competition is less strong, though even here I would have welcomed a little more oomph.  The recording places the players rather more backward than on most of the comparative recordings that I have referred to and that may be part of the reason for my reaction.  I listened to both the 24-bit and mp3 downloads from and while I’m sure that both give a faithful picture of the performers I would have welcomed hearing them sound more prominent.

I have not been alone in having similar reservations about some of Tempesta di Mare’s earlier recordings for Chandos – see my review of their second Fasch recording, CHAN0783 and Johan van Veen’s review of its predecessor volume.

It may well be that these most civilised and beautifully played performances will appeal to you more than they did to me and I suggest trying them out when they appear on Naxos Music Library or Qobuz.  After all, the court of Le Roi soleil was an extremely civilised place in most respects.  It was also a place with insufficient toilet facilities, so the courtiers had to relieve themselves in the corridors.  Tempesta di Mare show you the civilised face but the other recordings that I mention show a bit more of the rough that went with the smooth, though fortunately not the odour.

Brian Wilson