Les …lÈmens

According to the composerís preface to the
published score, the opening fortissimo chord, containing all seven notes of
the scale, represents ìthat confusion which reigned between the elements
before the moment when . . . they took the places prescribed for them by the
natureís order.î What follows is literally chaotic: each of the elements
has its own leitmotif and key, and they clash and conflict in nearly random
fashion. A throbbing bass note represents Earth; Water is a flute scale; Air
is a series of flute trills, and Fire is represented by high, rapid violin
notes; they resolve themselves into a coherent and dramatic D minor tonality
only at the end of the movement. What follows is a pleasant, but far more
pedestrian, ballet suite in D major, intended for the Paris OpÈra.

Although Les …lÈmens was originally written for an orchestra of
about fifty players, the published version is set up to permit concert
performance by two violins, two flutes and a bass, or private performance by
violin and harpsichord, or by harpsichord alone. Christopher Hogwood and the
Academy of Ancient Music, in this digital remastering of an analog recording
that won the French Grand prix du disque in the early days of the
historical performance movement, thus fall somewhere in the middle, with an
ensemble of about twenty which includes future superstars Monica Huggett and
Simon Standage. Two all-digital recordings of Les …lÈmens are
currently available from Les Musiciens du Louvre (1993) and Musica Antiqua
Kˆln (1995); both of them use approximately the same performing forces. To
hear the chamber version, one must track down the hard-to-get recording by
the Palladian Ensemble (Linn Records, U.K., 2003).

The other work on this CD is a suite of excerpts from another ballet, also
entitled Les …lÈmens. Rebel was probably familiar it, since the
six-year-old King Louis XV danced in its first performance in 1721. The
booklet lists it as being composed by AndrÈ Cardinal Destouches, who was at
that time the Inspector General of the Paris OpÈra, but many of the
movements were actually among the last works of court composer Michel-Richard
de Lalande. The recording includes the overture, the ìAirî numbers, and
the ìWaterî numbers, and the ìFireî chaconne. Unlike the Rebel piece,
little attempt is made to represent the elements programmatically. Lalande
and Destouches rely on the scenery and costumes; the overture contains no
vestige of the ìfire spouting from volcanoesî that would have been
visible onstage. Although this work is far more conventional than the Rebel
piece, it is still well worth hearing, and the Academyís recording appears
to be the only one currently available.

Beverly Wilcox
University of California, Davis

image_description=Jean-FÈry Rebel, AndrÈ Cardinal Destouches: Les …lÈmens
product_title=Jean-FÈry Rebel, AndrÈ Cardinal Destouches: Les …lÈmens
product_by=The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood, conductor
product_id=Decca (LíOiseau-Lyre) 475 9100 [CD]