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Michel-Richard de LALANDE (1657 - 1726): "Les soupers du roi"

Orchestre du Poème Harmonique
Dir: Vincent Dumestre

rec: Nov 21 - 24, 2020, Versailles, Opéra Royal
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS048 (© 2021) (59'12")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Concert de Trompettes (prélude); Grande Pièce royale, que le Roi demandait souvent; Suite in D; Suite in e minor; Suite in g minor

Elsa Frank, recorder, oboe; Vincent Robin, musette, oboe; Jérémie Papasergio, Isaure Lavergne, flageolet, recorder, bassoon; Bruno Fernandes, Pierre Meliz, trumpet; Fiona-Émilie Poupard, Catherine Ambach, Myriam Mahnane, Marion Korkmaz, Claire Létoré, Hélèna Chudzik-Lescoat, Rebecca Gormezano, dessus de violon; Sophie Iwamura, Camille Aubret, Lika Laloum, Tatsuya Hatano, haute-contre de violon; Pierre Vallet, Delphine Millour, Maialen Loth, taille de violon; Andreas Linos, Sylvia Abramowicz, Mathias Ferre, quinte de violon; Lucas Peres, Jérôme Huille, Édouard Catalan, Julie Dessaint, basse de violon; Simon Guidicelli, double bass; Thibaut Roussel, archlute, theorbo; Victoriem Disse, theorbo, guitar; Camille Delaforfe, harpsichord, organ; Samuel Domergue, percussion, timpani

Life at and around the court of Louis XIV of France was strongly regulated and codified. There were some rituals that never changed and were performed with painstaking precision every day. One of them was the ceremony that ended with the King going to bed. Before that, he was used to be entertained by some of the musicians at his court who played his favourite music. The oeuvre of Jean-Baptiste Lully includes 18 trios pour le coucher du roi.

Louis's meals were also highly regulated, as Thomas Leconte writes in the booklet to the recording under review here. "Louis XIV had the habit of eating supper daily, at ten o'clock in the evening, 'at the Grand Couvert' (i.e. in public and in a ceremony), according to an almost sacred ritual that underlined the almost Christ-like dimension of the meal of the sovereign by divine right." It was during his suppers that the music was performed that is the subject of this disc. It was written by Michel-Richard de Lalande, who - certainly after the death of Lully - was the Sun King's favourite composer. Lalande was responsible for the composition of the grands motets that were performed during mass in the Chapelle Royale - pieces in a genre that Louis XIV very much liked.

Lalande was by far the most powerful musician in the royal musical establishment. He had been trained at the keyboard and occupied several posts as organist in Parisian churches. In 1683 the two sous-maîtres, Henri du Mont and Pierre Robert, retired from the Chapelle Royale. Lalande was one of four who were chosen to share the responsibilities by quarters, thanks to Louis himself. In 1685 Lalande was appointed one of three compositeurs de la musique de la chambre (the others being Pascal Collasse and Robert). In 1689 he became surintendant de la musique de la chambre, the most prestigious musical post at the court. To this he later added other posts which made him virtually the absolute ruler in musical matters - in fact, the musical opposite number of his royal employer.

The symphonies have been preserved in two versions. The first dates from 1703, copied by André Danican-Philidor, the court's music librarian. It comprises 160 pieces in ten suites, to which is added a Concert de Trompettes. A large part of these pieces were taken from ballets that Lalande had written previously. Around 1713 two further suites were added by Lalande himself. A second collection was put together in 1727 and completed after 1733. It contains about 300 pieces in 18 suites, including the pieces from the previous collections. The additional pieces are again mostly from earlier ballets. In addition, this last collection includes some pieces by other composers, such as Jean-Féry Rebel, Lalande's brother-in-law.

The symphonies of the 1703 collection were to be played by the troupe des Petits Violons, founded in 1648, which were extended by two oboes and two bassoons in 1690. After the death of Louis it was the larger ensemble, the Vingt-Quatre Violons, that was responsible for the playing of the music during the King's supper.

It is notable that the symphonies have come down to us with only two parts, treble and bass, copied in four parts (two violins/oboes and two basse de violons/bassoons). This was very common at the time: Lully did the same in his operas, and the inner parts were later added for a performance. That is undoubtedly the procedure that was followed in the case of the symphonies. In this recording by Le Poème Harmonique most pieces are performed by the full ensemble in five parts, but some movements are played by only a few instruments.

It is also not indicated which instruments should play. Obviously the title Concert de Trompettes indicates the use of trumpets. Otherwise, the performers have almost unlimited freedom to use whatever instruments they like or what is available. The strings are the core of the ensemble, but to that the performers can add winds and plucked instruments; the latter can not only participate in the basso continuo, but also be used as melody instruments. In this recording we hear recorder, oboe, musette, flageolet and bassoon. In some pieces percussion is added.

Each suite opens with an overture, which is followed by a series of dances and character pieces. They often include a chaconne or passacaille, and three also have a caprice. Acording to Thomas Leconte, the caprices are the most original pieces in the collection. Two of them are included here, and one opens the programme: the Grande Pièce royale, que le Roi demandait souvent - a favourite of Louis XIV, which he often wanted to be performed.

To date only once the entire collections have been recorded (by Simphonie du Marais, directed by Hugo Reyne); most recordings comprise extracts, and that is the case here as well. It seems that Vincent Dumestre has not recorded complete suites, but rather excerpts from some of them. That may be in line with the practice in Lalande's time. Ardent lovers of this kind of music may well look for the complete recording (if they don't have it already and if it is still available), but others should investigate this disc, which is the perfect introduction to this important part of music life under Louis XIV. Lalande was an outstanding composer, as these symphonies demonstrate, and that comes perfectly off in these lively and colourful performances by Le Poème Harmonique. The Sun King found them very entertaining, and I am sure that any music lover who listens to this disc will agree.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Le Poème Harmonique

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