“Les Elements: Tempests, Storms, and Marine Festivals” = Music of LOCKE, MARAIS, RAMEAU, REBEL, TELEMANN & others – Jordi Savall – Alia Vox (2 discs)

A highly effective and illuminating concept album of thrilling dimensions.

“Les Elements: Tempests, Storms, and Marine Festivals” = LOCKE: Music from The Tempest; MARAIS: Suite No. 4 “Airs pour les Matelots & les Tritons”; RAMEAU: Air pour les Zephirs (from Les Indes Galantes); Orage et air pour Boree (from Les Indes galantes); Tonnerre (from Hippolyte Et Aricie); Zoroastre: Contredanse; Zoroastre: Contredanse très vive; REBEL: Les Élémens; TELEMANN: Overture (Suite) TWV 55:C3 in C major for wind, strings & continuo ‘Hamburger Ebb und Fluth’ (‘Wassermusik’); VIVALDI: Flute Concerto, Op. 10 No. 1 in F major, RV 433 ‘La tempesta di mare’ – Le Concert des Nations/ Jordi Savall – Alia Vox multichannel SACD AVSA 9914 (2 discs), 49:45, 48:59 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Jean-Fery Rebel’s The Elements is one of the major representations of the expression of fiery and descriptive portrayals in music ever, not just the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as emphasized on this release. In fact, it is the representation of chaos, one of the first important forays into the world of tone painting. Lully and Marais were heavily invested in this genre, seeing it as a rousing and enticing signification to the audience, ever alert to the new and sensory. Many composers and critics hated the practice, considering this sort of music lowly and unworthy of the highest art, but then a composer like Rameau comes along and raises the ante into the realm of the sublime, coupling effect and affect to the uttermost perfection.

But even though there were some who deplored the style, its remnants survived even into the late baroque and far beyond. After the early classical era (Rossini and others) it took a hiatus for around 70 years, but found new life in the tone poem. We know that the compositional activities of the earlier French composers were quite forceful and blatant—and rabidly exciting—in their searing of the senses and emotions, but even composers like Vivaldi and Telemann were able to absorb the spirit of these efforts into their music in a most artful and elegant manner.

Savall, like always, gives us a real tour of the era in performances and sound second to none. These discs are an energetic and tempting seduction into the music of a bygone era perhaps more thrilled by it than our overexposed and somewhat jaded times, but only by a little.

—Steven Ritter

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