Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Great music in the calm centre

From March 19, 2015:

Today we expect Historically Informed Performance (HIP) from our Baroque music, and more or less get it in most new recordings. But within HIP’s broad range from the dryly academic to the eccentric, edgy experiments on the fringes there are plenty of opportunities to entertain and inform. The new CD from the reliable Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, also known as Tempesta di Mare, is on the careful side, but I admire the restraint, good taste and musicianship on display in their program of orchestral music from the French Baroque theatre.

Jean-Fery Rebel’s Les Elements begins with chaos, with music that must have seemed very radical at the time. The music has a startling beginning, with all of the notes of the d minor scale being played at once. This has been called “the first tone cluster in the history of Western art music.” But the point of playing this music today is not to rival an Imax presentation of The Perfect Storm. Rebel says he “used the most widely accepted conventions” in his portrayal of the natural progression from chaos to “the moment when, subject to invariable laws, the elements took their prescribed place in the natural order.” It’s not that the world of the late 1730s knew any less about chaos than we do today; there was if anything less order in world affairs then than now. But on the stage at the French court of Louis XV was a real balance of “the natural order”, even if chaos swirled all around. And this sense of things returning to where they belong is everywhere in Tempesta di Mare’s program, in the music of Lully and Marais as well as Rebel. Distracted as we are by the all the shiny things at the edge, it’s nice to take a break and spend some time in the calm centre.

By the way, has anyone noticed how much the beginning of Rebel’s Le Chaos sounds like the beginning of Bernard Herrmann’s score to Taxi Driver? I find the the similarity striking; perhaps this was an homage from Herrmann.

So here is the Rebel (sorry, the Tempesta di Mare version isn't on Spotify):

And here's the Hermann:

What do you think?

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