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GRAMOPHONE (02/2016)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp


They hadn’t heard of global warming in the time of Rebel, Marais and Rameau, and to come across this twodisc set of floods, storms and gales in the soggy last days of 2015, and then read Jordi Savall’s booklet-note call to respect the planet, is apt to summon sobering reflections. Not so the music itself, however, which, if in itself unlikely to change the climate, is as invigorating as a walk on a windy day. Recorded live in Fontfroide Abbey in Narbonne at a concert entitled ‘Terra nostra: Homage to the Earth’, it offers ‘marine festivals’ alongside the tempests and is for the most part rather jolly and tuneful. Most of the music has origins in the theatre, where in Baroque times storms could be potent plot-worriers. Thus we have a short suite from Marais’s opera Alcyone, in which a ‘tempête’ sits among music for lusty matelots and a chaconne for tritons; another short suite drawn from four Rameau operas in which Boreas blows but all ends in a contredanse; Matthew Locke’s fascinatingly angular and melodically unpredictable music for a 1674 production of The Tempest in which, despite the evocatively gathered squall of its innocuously titled ‘Curtain Tune’, the final number is a strictly ordered canon; and Rebel’s ballet Les élémens, with its sensational opening seven-note crunchchord of chaos. Away from the stage, there is Vivaldi’s well-known Tempesta di mare flute concerto (played here on recorder), and Telemann’s delicious and fluidly playful Hamburger Ebb und Fluth suite – if only today’s flood defences could work as serenely as the Hamburg sluices apparently depicted in this work’s gigue movement!


Jordi Savall directs with typical grandeur and depth of tone. The subjectmatter means plenty of work for the twoman wind machine and rumbling drum department, but there is exquisite contrast too in, say, the fluty stillness of Marais’s Ritournelle or the exquisitely graceful ‘sleeping Thetis’ Sarabande of the Telemann. Not everything about a live concert always transfers well to disc. The Vivaldi concerto comes across as stodgy, and the ample acoustic provokes the kind of ensemble problems in the Telemann overture that one imagines would not have survived a studio recording. There are noises too (some, I fancy, coming from the conductor), but the enthusiastic audience participation in the encore – a Rameau contredanse – leaves one in no doubt that a good time was had by all. Whatever was on their minds by then, it wasn’t rising water levels.

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