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Michel Richard de LALANDE (1657-1726)
Symphonies pour les soupers du roi (1713)
Concert de Trompettes [7:19]
1e Suite [17:54]
2e Suite [25:50]
3e Suite [17:51]
4e Suite [22:23]
5e Suite [18:31]
6e Suite, Airs du Ballet de Flore ou de Trianon [20:28]
7e Suite [32:27]
8e Suite [25:43]
9e Suite, Airs du Ballet de Mélicerte [27:35]
10e Suite, Air du Ballet des Fées [17:39]
11e Suite, Airs du Ballet de la Paix [19:43]
12e Suite, don’t les Airs forment le 3e Caprice [13:43]
La Symphonie du Marais/Hugo Reyne
rec. 1990, Palais des Congrès, Aix-les-Bains
HARMONIA MUNDI HMY2921337.40 [4 CDs: 05:21:00]

De Lalande was the leading court composer of the later years of Louis XIV, who greatly favoured him. He is best known as the composer of grands motets, the form of sacred music preferred by the king, though his sombre Leçons de ténèbres have also attracted attention. Here we have his principal secular work, the Symphonies pour les soupers du roi. These are among the most famous works of the baroque period but more by reputation than performance. This is the only recording which even purports to be complete. The original issue of 1990 has long been a collectors’ item, and so this reissue at a modest price is most welcome.

They are not symphonies in the sense which we associate with Haydn having started later in the century, but suites of dances; symphonies only in the sense that they are concerted music for groups of instruments. So you will find all the kinds of dances you might expect, such as sarabandes, passepieds, gigues, gavottes and so on as well as introductory overtures, airs and caprices. Some of these have been taken from ballets, vocal works and doubtless other original versions. They are grouped into twelve suites, which are here prefaced by an introductory work for trumpets. At this point we have to recognize that there were in fact several different versions of this work. The original, dated 1703, was enlarged by adding the final two suites in 1713. Later versions date from 1727 and 1745 and were considerably enlarged by adding pieces taken from other ballets. As these date from after de Lalande’s death their authenticity is in doubt. Reyne has here opted to perform the 1713 version but I understand that he has made further adjustments to the contents. The details I have to leave to specialists. The sleeve-note gives minimal information. Perhaps the original set had a longer note.

The works were indeed written to accompany the king’s suppers — the king in question being Louis XIV, though his successor, Louis XV, also enjoyed them so they stayed in the royal repertory for some fifty years. They are therefore entertainment music, but in the same sense in which Mozart’s serenades and divertimenti of some seventy years or so later are entertainment music: enjoyable, easy to listen to, superbly crafted and varied. There is a wonderful range of moods and styles in these works. You can start anywhere in the four discs and find pleasure, and there are constant small surprises: an unusual rhythm, charming tunes, occasionally even a soprano for a work which has been given back to its original medium. Some pieces are only a few seconds long, while others last several minutes. I find a slight but pleasing melancholy in many of them, as of Mendelssohn’s fairy music, but the overall impression is joyous. It does not seem to matter that many of the suites are split across a disc. The performances are spirited and elegant and have been recorded in what sounds like a room of medium size for a palace. They wear their twenty-five years lightly.

De Lalande did not indicate the instrumentation, so what we have here are plausible realizations. Hugo Reyne has been careful to use different kinds of flutes and violins, with a handful of other instruments, but he has let his imagination go with the occasional inclusion of some exotic percussion, including castanets, crotales, gongs and an échelette, which turns out to be a xylophone. These are, presumably, in period, for he has certainly done his research, but I found myself thinking of some of those naughty twentieth century versions of baroque, such as Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. In short, these performances are fun.

This is just as well as, for at the moment anyway, they have no competition for a complete set. I would love to hear what Jordi Savall would make of this music, as it is comparable to François Couperin’s Concerts royaux and his other suites, which he has recorded so stylishly, but that is probably wishful thinking. Excerpts from this set have been available, and there is a single disc programme by Jürgen Groẞ on Challenge Classics which takes a rather different approach (review here). Baroque enthusiasts who missed this the first time round will need no urging to make the omission good now; others will also find this an enjoyable set.

Stephen Barber



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