REVIEW: SAVALL AND LE CONCERT SPIRITUEL
posted by James Reel
A review I wrote some time ago for Fanfare:
CORELLI Concerto Grosso in D, op. 6/4. TELEMANN Suite in D for Gamba and Strings, TWV 55:D6. Concerto in a for Flute, Gamba, and Strings, TWV 52:a1. Suite in e for 2 Flutes and Strings, TWV 55:e1. RAMEAU Les Indes galantes: Suite Jordi Savall, vdg (cond); Concert des Nations ALIA VOX AVSA 9877 (SACD: 78:29)
Most classical-music lovers know Le Concert Spirituel if for nothing else as the oddly named concert series for which Mozart and Haydn wrote their “Paris” symphonies. On this new SACD, Jordi Savall and his chamber orchestra Le Concert des Nations (one of several Savall ensembles with somewhat overlapping personnel) explore Le Concert Spirituel via works of some of the most notable composers presented earlier in the series’ existence, whose fortunes rose and fell from 1725 to 1790. The series was a scheme to present concerts during Lent and other religious periods when opera and theater performances were banned. The “spiritual” element of the concerts varied from performance to performance; often there were motets or other sacred works on the program, but usually instrumental pieces also infiltrated the proceedings. The early years focused on French music, but Italians and Germans eventually made some headway. On this disc, Savall presents music by one significant representative of each major nationality.
The extensive notes in the accompanying, well-illustrated booklet (a typical Alia Vox touch) state, “The repertoire of the present project is inspired in the instrumental works for orchestra by some of the favourite composers of the organizers of the Concert Spirituel during the reign of Louis XVI (1722–74), and especially from 1728 to 1768.” The notes never, however, come right out and claim that these particular works ever figured in any particular concerts. No matter; a Corelli concerto grosso (the “Christmas” Concerto) was featured in the very first concert; Telemann’s music is documented as present in 1738, 1745, and 1751; and Rameau was an almost constant presence between 1728 and 1768.
Savall has long been known not only for his smart thematic programming but more importantly for his emphasis on sensual tone while giving free rein to a score’s dance rhythms. Take the Corelli, with its highly lyrical, Italianate opening passage succeeded by the quick, nimble interplay of the concertino violins. In the Telemann Suite for Gamba and Strings, even the ouverture feels like part of a dance suite rather than a pompous introduction set apart from than dances that follow, and Savall is a rollicking soloist. And so on all the way through to the end of the Rameau suite, which enjoys a particularly vibrant performance. Overall, Savall and company provide intricate ornamentation and their customary Mediterranean warmth and vivacity without resorting to the mania increasingly common among Italian and some French ensembles.
This generously filled disc, in the label’s typically gorgeous high-resolution audio, is a perfect introduction to Baroque orchestral music beyond Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, and a highly desirable acquisition for more seasoned collectors. After hearing this, many music lovers will surely call for Savall to record all the Corelli concerti, and make a more comprehensive survey of Rameau’s opera-ballet suites. And who knows what further Telemann treasures they could turn up? James Reel