This debut disc from French artistic collective La Tempête and their director Simon-Pierre Bestion is, at first glance, frankly bizarre. Period instrumental and choral works by Locke and Purcell sit alongside music by Frank Martin and living French composer Thierry Pécou.
Divided into a sequence of quasi-dramatic ‘acts’, the music is designed to capture the ‘plural spirit’ of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, mirroring the play’s narrative ‘without restricting itself to works actually written for the play’. It’s hard to shake the impression that this brilliant group of young musicians just wanted an excuse to perform some of their favourite pieces, but they make such a stylish job of it that it’s easy to get swept up in their wide-ranging enthusiasms.
Most exciting are instrumental interludes by Matthew Locke, whose The Tempest opens the disc, and (according to some rather ponderous booklet-notes) was the inspiration for the project. Bass-anchored and percussion-driven, the playing has a real rhythmic kick to it, insisting upon the dances that are then sublimated and dissolved in song and text-settings of Martin and Pécou.
Choral blend and enunciation are immaculate, at their very best in Martin’s Songs of Ariel – lively with inventive textural gestures, and expressively every bit the equal of Vaughan Williams’s better-known Three Shakespeare Songs. Also interesting is Philippe Hersant’s extended Falling Star – the contemporary choral cousin of Purcell’s verse anthems, many of which also feature here. It’s particularly good to see Let mine eyes run down with tears among the more familiar numbers – a neglected gem of rare intensity, performed here with tremendous poise.
La Tempête’s avowed aim here was to ‘disturb the tranquillity’ of their listeners. While I can’t confess to any lasting disturbance of spirit, these young French mavericks certainly inspired plenty of excitement and no little anticipation with their provocative debut. (Gramophone)