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The Lully Effect
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Armide: Prologue – Overture; Act V scene 2, Passacaille (1686) [8:35]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Overture (Suite) in e minor, for two flutes, two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo, TWV 55:e3 (c.1716) [18:41]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Dardanus Suite (1739/1744) [35:17]
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra/Barthold Kuijken
rec. 21-24 January 2013, Ruth Lilly Performance Hall, Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, University of Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. DDD.
NAXOS 8.573867 [62:47]

Quite some time ago Naxos introduced us to a very fine North American baroque orchestra in the form of the Canadian Aradia Ensemble and Jean Mallon, who have made some most attractive recordings for them. My own favourite is a riotous performance of Handel’s Water Music and Fireworks Music, complete with tambourine (8.557764: Bargain of the Month – review review). Not far behind is an earlier, equally lively recording of the music of Lully entitled Ballet Music for the Sun King, also containing some cheeky sounds (8.554003).

This seems to be the first recording by the period-instrument Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra though not, of course, from their director, the flautist Barthold Kuijken.  They are a group of the size that could have performed in a chateau at the time, effectively one to a part but sounding by no means anaemic or under-powered. The bass part deliberately comes over as especially strong.

I am surprised that we have had to wait so long – five years – for the album to appear because it’s very fine. If anything, this now replaces the Aradia Ensemble’s Sun King album as an inexpensive introduction to the music of the period.

Better still, it would make an excellent next step after that recording. Though labelled The Lully Effect, there’s only a smidgen of his music here to open the programme in the form of two short extracts from his opera-ballet Armide. The sprightly playing sets the tone for the whole recording; if it inspires the listener to check out the longer 23-minute suite on Tudor, so much the better (Capriccio Baroque Orchestra, TUDOR7185, with suites from Phaton and Atys review DL Roundup April 2012/2).1

Telemann’s music encompasses a range of styles but much of it, especially his orchestral Overtures or Suites, was inspired by French examples, in particular by the music of Lully. This Suite in e minor – NB: not a quite different suite in E major, as advertised by some dealers – is not one of those most often recorded, so you are unlikely to have a duplicate version. The only other version that I know is on Brilliant Classics 93416, a 3-CD set forming Volume 2 of the Complete Overtures and now rather more expensive as a download only than when it was a budget-price set. (Excerpted from the 29-CD set, 94104 – review – itself now replaced by an enlarged 50-CD edition, 95150, target price 61).

The rarity of this Suite should not put you off in any way: with prominent parts for two flutes, it’s almost as enjoyable as Telemann’s better-known Suite in a minor for recorder or flute, strings and continuo, TWV55:a2. Best of all, it’s an ideal vehicle for Kuijken, as is the Rameau – plenty of flute contributions in evidence here, too; he must have been tempted to join in. The Dardanus Suite is the longest work here and it never outstays its welcome. This is music to which I could listen until the proverbial lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea.

There are several recordings of the Dardanus Suite, including one from the European Union Baroque Orchestra directed by Roy Goodman on an earlier Naxos recording (8.557490, with Plate and Pygmalion Suites – review DL News 2015/2). Kuijken’s suite is slightly different in composition from Goodman’s.

Where they choose the same music, as in the Overture and Tambourin I-II, Goodman’s tempi are noticeably faster without sounding hurried. Kuijken achieves his effect less from the chosen tempo, though he’s no slouch, but more by his closer observation of period style, including bowing techniques and ornamentation, the latter sounding natural and not stuck on as is sometimes the case.

Incidentally, if you are looking for a recording of the a-minor suite (TWV55:a2, not A2 as some have it) and the recent 9-CD Harmonia Mundi collection is too much for you to take in – review – the splendid performance from that set with Maurice Steger (treble recorder) and the Akademie fr alte Musik can still be obtained on a single CD (HMC901917, with Concerto in C and ‘Water Music’ – Hamburger Ebb’ und Fluth).

Other fine recordings of the a-minor come from Dan Laurin and Arte dei Suonatori on BIS – review – download in 16- or 24-bit from with pdf booklet – and from Giovanni Antonini with his Giardino Armonico (Alpha ALPHA245: Recording of the Month – review.) Big-box collectors will be attracted by Ricercar’s 9-CD Telemann offering – review. My press preview contained only CD1, including the a-minor Suite from the Ricercar Consort, but that’s enough to confirm the recommendation for the whole set. Another member of the musical Kuijken family, Sigiswald, directs La Petite Bande, with Bart Coen (recorder) on Accent (ACC24288, with TWV55:D6, TWV52:a1 and TWV43:G6). I was not alone in liking that rather more than Johan van Veen – review.

The advertising blurb for the new Naxos recording mentions grandeur, finesse and diversity and for once that’s no exaggeration: these performances deliver just those qualities and the recording does them justice. Two fine sets of notes, from harpsichordist Thomas Gerber and Barthold Kuijken, crown the achievement.

Naxos releases are no longer as inexpensive as were those earlier recordings which I have mentioned, but this album of Lully-inspired music is worth every penny of the 7 or so that you can expect to pay. A lossless download should cost around 4.75; members can stream the recording, with booklet, from Naxos Music Library. One way or another, you should try to hear these revelatory performances, but don’t forget the earlier Goodman and Mallon recordings mentioned.

1 The classicsonline link no longer applies but subscribers to Naxos Music Library can stream the recording there.

Brian Wilson

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