With this two-disc hybrid SACD set, Jordi Savall turns his considerable gifts as a performer and scholar to the music of the French court during the reign of Louis XV in the middle years of the 18th century. The confluence of Louis XIV's love of music and dance and the talent of Jean-Baptiste Lully had constituted the high point of royal French patronage of music; Louis XV was relatively indifferent to music and it wasn't until Rameau was in his sixties when he was finally granted a royal appointment. Throughout his long career, though, he enjoyed great popular success and was considered France's outstanding composer, and he produced a large body of work including over 20 operas. As the excellent program note to this recording diplomatically puts it, Rameau's work was "profoundly original to the point of sometimes bordering on the strange," and that strangeness contributes substantially to its appeal to modern audiences; his is a music of extremes that doesn't sound quite like anyone else's. The orchestral suites from his operas reveal him as a composer capable of an almost severe austerity and seriousness as well as eccentric whimsicality. His unpredictability may keep listeners constantly on their metaphoric toes, but an undeniable logic undergirds his music and makes it irresistibly compelling. (In this regard, he seems like a natural forbear of Berlioz, who lived just about a century later.) Some of the strangeness is a result of his orchestration, which can include musettes (small bagpipes) and relies more heavily than that of most of his contemporaries on winds and percussion. These superb performances by Le Concert des Nations make a strong case for Rameau as a composer who is not merely talked about but actually performed with far greater frequency. Savall and the orchestra give scrupulous and (from the energy of the playing) delighted attention to the details of the scores; phrases are lovingly shaped, lines surge and leap, and the music practically bristles with excitement. The performers' use of historically appropriate instruments and their adherence to historically informed practice and ornamentation accentuate the foreignness of Rameau's somewhat exotic aesthetic, but should delight listeners who aren't afraid of being surprised. Alia Vox's sound is impeccably clean, with exceptional liveliness.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
|Les Indes Galantes, suite|
Track Listing - Disc 2
|Les Boréades, suite|