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"Le Concert Spirituel au temps de Louis XV"

Pierre Hamon, recordera; Marc Hantaï, Charles Zebley, transverse fluteb; Jordi Savall, viola da gambac
Le Concert des Nations
Dir: Jordi Savall

rec: Feb 16 - 19, 2010, Cardona (Collégiale)
AliaVox - AVSA 9877 (© 2010) (78'29")

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Concerto grosso in D, op. 6,4 [1]; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Les Indes galantes: orchestral suite; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a1)ac; Overture for two transverse flutes, strings and bc in e (TWV 55,e1)b [2]; Overture for viola da gamba, strings and bc in D (TWV 55,D6)c

(Sources: [1] Arcangelo Corelli, Concerti grossi op. 6, 1714; [2] Georg Philipp Telemann, Musique de Table, 1733 (1. Production))

Public concerts are an organic part of modern music culture. That wasn't always the case. It is a relatively modern phenomenon, and it owes its existence to the increasing role of non-aristocratic circles in cultural life of the 18th century. It was partly due to the Enlightenment that the bourgeoisie started to play music and to listen to music in their own homes. This paved the way for the phenomenon of public concerts with entrance fees.

One of the most important stages of the history of public music making was the Concert Spirituel, a concert organisation which existed from 1725 to 1790 in Paris. During that time numerous compositions were performed in public. The programmes show a wide variety of repertoire. Despite the name not only sacred vocal music was performed, but also secular music and instrumental compositions. As one would expect French composers were prominently represented in the programmes, but music from foreign masters was also performed. Among them were Corelli, Handel, Telemann and Pergolesi, and in the fourth quarter of the 18th century also Haydn and Mozart. Vivaldi became one of the most popular foreign composers in the series, and some of his concertos, in particular the Four Seasons, received several performances throughout the years.

It was a nice idea to present a programme of music by composers who were programmed in the Concert Spirituel. But the programme notes don't tell whether these particular compositions were actually performed during the concerts of the Concert Spirituel. I don't know how much we know about which pieces were performed, but it would have been interesting if specimens from the concert programmes over the years would have been recorded.

That said the music which is selected for this disc is some of the finest from the first half of the 18th century. Corelli was one of the icons of Italian music, and the programme begins with the Concerto grosso in D, op. 6,4. It is known that the so-called Christmas concerto from this opus was performed at the very first Concert Spirituel in 1725. The fourth concerto is given a good performance, with more ornamentation than is mostly added. In particular the opening adagio is heavily ornamented - probably a bit too much.

Telemann was known and quite popular in France. He once visited Paris, and some of his music was performed by the best musicians of the time. As he was a great lover of the French style it is understandable that his music went down well with the French audiences. Again, I am not aware of the pieces recorded here having been performed in the Concert Spirituel. But the choice makes sense. Two of them have solo parts for the viola da gamba, an instrument which had been dominant in France for a long time. And although during the first half of the 18th century it was gradually replaced by the cello, there were still composers writing music for the viola da gamba. The Overture in e minor is modelled after the overtures and suites by Lully, although it is doubtful whether French audiences will have recognized Telemann's overtures as French. The two solo parts are for transverse flutes, also a popular instrument in France at the time of the Concert Spirituel.

The programme ends with Rameau: as he was one of the most famous composers of his time, and dominated the musical theatre, he couldn't fail to show up in the programme. Suites of instrumental pieces from operas were regularly performed, and here we get a short suite from Les Indes Galantes.

The abundance of ornamentation in Corelli's Concerto grosso are the only thing I can criticise about this disc. Telemann is given really brilliant performances. As one would expect Jordi Savall is in his element in the solo parts of the double concerto and the overture. He delivers truly engaging performances, and in the concerto Pierre Hamon is his congenial partner at the recorder. All performances on this disc are strongly gestural and full of contrast, and the rhythmic pulse is excellently exposed.

The voluminous booklet contains programme notes and biographies of the composers represented in the programme.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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