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Les Éléments – Tempêtes, Orages & Fêtes Marines 1674-1764
Jean-Féry REBEL (1666-1747)
Les Éléments, 1737 [23:04]
Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677)
Music for The Tempest, 1674 [20:16]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto in F, La Tempesta di Mare, 1729 [6:12]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Airs from Alcione, 1706 [15:10]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Wassermusik, Hamburger Ebb und Fluth, 1740 [22:18]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Orages et tonnerres, 1735-1764 [11:14]
Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall (director)
rec. live in concert, Fontfroide Abbey, Narbonne, France, 19 July 2015
ALIA VOX AVSA9914 [49:45 + 48:59]

This release may not come encased in a hardback book, but in every other respect it is one of Jordi Savall's great themed cultural explorations and is a very rewarding exploration of how several Baroque composers treated the themes of nature and the elements.

Rebel's Les Éléments sets the bar high. The famous discord that begins the suite opens with marvellously nutty, brash, braying sound that is both exciting and invigorating because of its rhythm, as well as its harmony. The order that is then spun out of chaos is tremendously exciting, carried by the strings but uplifted by marvellously clean piccolos (and winds more generally), but directed with unarguable logic by Savall so that, by the time we get to the end of Chaos, you feel as though you have been led through dangerous ground to safety by an extremely knowledgeable guide. The low, lumbering strings that characterise Earth have the air of a comic dance to them, and the Fire Chaconne is sprightly and exciting. Those piccolos are back centre-stage for the Air, and rasping horns bray their way through the second Loure, preparing the way for a Sicilienne of restrained beauty, a very exciting orchestral hunt, and a spicy trio of Tambourins to finish.

Matthew Locke's music for The Tempest is beautifully varied and extremely well played, but what struck me most about it is just how French it sounds, with its dotted and bouncy rhythms. If you didn't know better, you'd swear it had come out of Versailles a century later. He doesn't say so, but I suspect that might be Savall's point, illustrating that English music of the late seventeenth century wasn't quite so out of step with its continental cousins as we might traditionally have thought. Hearing it in such close proximity to the genuine French article, the shipwreck scene from Marais' Alcione, is revelatory in this regard. In fact, the things that most set Marais' scene apart are not its Gallic sense of rhythm or élan but its marvellously evocative use of percussion and wind-machine to evoke the tempest itself, effects that clearly come straight out of the world of the Versailles Opéra and which Savall both relishes and delights in. His way with the concluding Chaconne is, if anything, even finer.

Telemann's Water Music, written for a commemoration in Hamburg in 1723, is everything a Baroque suite should be: richly varied, beautifully textured and buzzing with good tunes, all of which Le Concert des Nations bring out beautifully. Into the bargain, each movement has a mythological theme to do with something maritime - Thetis, Neptune, Aeolus and so on - and the players are beautifully adept at bringing out each unique colour.

Finishing with a collection of Rameau's wind music ends the set on a high. It's among the most colourful of the composer's scores, and the musicians have a whale of a time conjuring up unruly winds and vivacious contredanses, but every bit as remarkable is the understated beauty of the opening Aria where a small company of instruments engage in a chamber-music-like conversation and pull it off with exceptional beauty and subtlety.

Recorded sound, captured in the resonant but not overly boomy acoustic of Fontfroide Abbey in Narbonne, is excellent and, even though the disc was recorded live at a concert, there is not a hint of audience noise... until, that is, they are invited to clap along to the final Contredanse of Les Boréades! The packaging, too, is up to Savall's usual high standard, with a glossy booklet containing two scholarly essays (in six languages), lots of performance photos and some facsimiles of the scores as originally published. It also contains a cri-de-coeur from Savall on climate change, which will please or irritate your depending on your views.

Simon Thompson



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