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Michel-Richard DE LALANDE (1657 - 1726): "Symphonies pour les Soupers du Roy"

Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg
Dir: Jürgen Groß

rec: Dec 12 - 15, 2013, Kempen, Franziskanerkloster
Challenge Classics - CC72664 (© 2015) (61'48")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

1er Caprice, Caprice de Villers Cotterets; 1ere Suite; 3eme Caprice; 3eme Suite; 5eme Suite; Grande piece en G re sol

Anna Fusek, recorder; Katrin Lazar, recorder, bassoon; Luisi Haugk, Nils Jönsson, oboe; Jürgen Groß, Raphaëlle Pacault, violin; Jochen Grüner, Florian Schulte, viola; James Bush, cello; Ophira Zakai, theorbo; Jörg Jacobi,harpsichord; Michael Metzler, percussion

Michel-Richard de Lalande was one of the main composers in France in the decades around 1700. He was educated as a keyboard player but no compositions for organ or harpsichord have survived. He especially made a name for himself as a composer of sacred music, particularly grands motets for soloists, choir and orchestra. His motets were greatly appreciated by King Louis XIV under whose rule he made his career. Shortly before the Sun King's death in 1715 he had collected the main musical positions at the court. No fewer than 77 motets have come down to us and even in the late 18th century they were still considered masterpieces.

Lalande also composed a considerable number of works for the theatre, such as serenades, ballets and divertissements. That is especially relevant in regard to the music played on the present disc. The symphonies pour les soupers du roy include a number of pieces which were part of Lalande's theatre music. Some of the airs are instrumental versions of vocal items in those theatre pieces. The word symphonie has nothing to do with the classical term symphony or sinfonia. In France this accorded to an instrumental work of any kind, independent of its function or the size of the performing ensemble.

The symphonies have been preserved in two versions. The first dates from 1703, with additions from 1713 (the so-called Philidor-manuscript); this includes 185 pieces divided into 12 suites, written for performance during the suppers of Louis XIV. The second version comprises two manuscripts from 1727 and 1745 respectively, and consists of around 300 pieces in 18 suites. The 12 suites from the first version are integrated in this second version, but in different order; extracts from Lalande's ballets are added. The symphonies consist of three different types of music: purely instrumental works such as preludes and trios, dances and pieces taken from ballets. They are scored for one treble instrument and basso continuo; there are no indications in regard to instrumentation. However, the original sources of some of the pieces suggest that in addition to the common strings wind instruments as recorders, transverse flutes and oboes can be added. They can be used either independently or play colla parte with the violins.

It is assumed that the scores are so-called partitions réduites which means that what is written down is only a part of what was actually played. Bernhard Schrammek, in his liner-notes, states that "it may be assumed that most of this repertoire would have been played by five-part ensembles, according to the ideal of French orchestral writing at the time. In the source material, this becomes very clear in the fugues of the Ouvertures, which have five entries of the subject but no contrapuntal development." It is probably a matter of debate whether this means that all the pieces need to be performed with additional inner voices. Hugo Reyne, who recorded the complete 12 suites from the first version (Harmonia mundi, 1990), doesn't mention this issue. However, he added "complementary violin counterparts for the overtures and for certain airs in order to enrich the harmony of the two solitary treble and bass lines."

Unfortunately we don't know how many players were involved in the performances that took place during the King's suppers. No pictures have been preserved. Reyne opted for a performance of the treble part with five violins, plus additional wind instruments and in some pieces also percussion. For the present recording Jörg Jacobi added inner parts for most of the pieces, except the trios. He has used a manuscript from between 1727 and 1736 "which has been proved to trace back to Delalande's own notes and markings". The performance of these symphonies in a five-part texture has certainly some plausibility but whether it is in line with Lalande's own performances at the time will probably never be known.

In the light of this approach it is disappointing that the line-up of the ensemble is not in accordance with that of the French orchestra in Lalande's time. The string body was usually in five parts: dessus de violon, haute-contre de violon, taille de violon, quinte - mostly played by viole da gamba - and basse de violon. The violin is no problem, but the others are different from the instruments used in the German or Italian type of orchestra. Here the three inner parts are taken by a second violin and two violas. The bass is played by a cello which is debatable: it made its entrance in France well after 1700 and it seems unlikely that cellos were ever used in Louis XIV's lifetime.

The performance with one instrument per part is also an issue: there are probably good arguments for it, especially as this music was played in the relative intimacy of the King's ante-chambre. However, the balance is problematic here: if the oboes play colla parte with the violins they dominate and largely overshadow the violins. That doesn't happen in Reyne's performance as he uses more violins.

I am not that enthusiastic about the playing of the Elbipolis Barockorchester which seems to me a little too aggressive. I prefer the playing of Reyne's La Simphonie de Marais as it has more of the elegance and refinement which is a feature of French music under Louis XIV.

That said, this disc offers an interesting approach to Lalande's symphonies and in that respect it is a clear alternative to Reyne's readings. One thing is for sure: neither has said the last word on the interpretation of these scores which leave many questions to be answered.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg

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