Passion: Lully, Charpentier, Desmarets
Véronique Gens, Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles
ALPHA 747. 57’12
This recording showcases soprano Véronique Gens in the form of a five Act “opera imaginaire”, based on the repertoire of two of the greatest divas of the 17th-century Paris Opera: Mlle Saint-Christoph (her first name is not known) and her successor Marie Le Rochois. They both dominated the Paris opera scene between 1675 and 1698. Concentrating principally on the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully, we also hear music from operas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Henry Desmarets, and Pascal Collasse, with extracts from Lully’s Amadis, Proserpine, Atys, Armide, Persée, Alceste, and Le Triomphe de l’Amour, together with Charpentier’s Médée, depicting heroines such as Alceste, Armide and Médée, and the deities Juno, Ceres and Aeolia.
Messe du Roi Soleil
Lully – Couperin – Delalande
Chœur et Ensemble Marguerite Louise, Gaetan Jarry, organ
Château de Versailles Spectacles, CVS008. 53’13
The Château de Versailles Spectacles label continues with its series of recordings based on the music that might have been heard in the Royal Chapel. These recordings are presumably aimed principally at the tourists that, in more normal circumstances, flock to the Palace and its gift shops. On this occasion, there has to be a health warning to more serious CD buyers, not least because the premise for this recording is not really what it says on the tin. One thing this isn’t is a Mass for the Sun King, or indeed, any sort of Mass. Continue reading
A Baroque Odyssey
40 Years of Les Arts Florissants
William Christie, Paul Agnew
The Barbican, 8 December 2019
Eavesdropping on a birthday party can be fun, even if you sometimes wish it wouldn’t go on for quite so long. This one did, apparently finishing around 10.30, although I had to leave before 10 to catch my last train home. In celebration of their proud 40-year history, Les Arts Florissants are touring a mixed programme of Handel, Purcell and the French composers Charpentier, d’Ambruis, Lully and Rameau. Under their founding Director William Christie and Associate Musical Director Paul Agnew, five soloists, a large orchestra and 23-strong choir demonstrated just why they have been so important over the past 40 years. Like any good party, it is perhaps best to leave what happened in the room, in the room, so I will not attempt a critical review – which is probably just as well because I am not sure that I could think of anything critical to say. Continue reading
Dies Iræ, De Profundis, Te Deum
Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Millenium Orchestra, Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo García Alarcón
Outhere Music: Alpha 444. 82’50
The complex rituals of the ceremonial music of the French Court of Louis XIV, with its divided Music re Roi, are perhaps summed up in these three Lully pieces – the grand motets Dies Iræ, De Profundis and Te Drum. Although Lully never held any formal posts within the Chapelle du Roi, court tradition dictated that for royal funerals, although the Mass itself was directed by the Sous-maîtres de la Chapelle, for the Prose and Aspersion of the Coffin, the music (Dies Iræ & De Profundis) was the responsibility of the Superintendant de la Musique de la Chambre – Lully. He took this opportunity to develop the genre of the grand ceremonial motet using the combined forces of the two choirs and a rich orchestration.
French Baroque music meets Indian Classical Dance
BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Sofi Jeannin
Sanskriti UK & Ankh Dance
Milton Court, 19 October 2018
Lully: Te Deum
Rameau: In convertendo Dominus;
extracts from Les Indes galantes, Les fêtes d’Hébé & Castor et Pollux
In what was a rather brave bit of programming for a live BBC Radio 3 broadcast, the BBC Singers and the Academy of Music, directed by Sofi Jeannin, the new Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers, presented an evening of French Baroque music, the second half of which was accompanied by two contrasting forms of Indian dance. The first half was of liturgical pieces, starting with Lully’s jubilant 1677 setting of the Te Deum. This was first heard at Fontainebleau and later became the piece that led to Lully’s death after he stabbed himself in the foot with his conducting baton during Chapel Royal celebrations for the Sun King’s recovery from surgery – surgery that Lully decided, fatally, to refuse. No such calamity occurred here as Sofi Jeannin demonstrated her commendably straightforward style of conducting, her focus clearly on the music itself rather than on any sense of self-aggrandisement. She coped well with the complications of this particular occasion, which included a late start after an overrun of the previous Radio 3 show, and complicated coordination between dances, singers, instrumentalists, a BBC announcer and the paraphernalia of a live BBC broadcast. Continue reading
London Festival of Baroque Music
Treasures of the Grand Siècle
11-19 May 2018
The London Festival of Baroque Music (LFBM) is now in its 35th year. Previously known as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, it is London’s leading early music festival, not least for the number of non-UK performers that it has traditionally featured. Last year’s change in the management means that the executive director of the festival is now Richard Heason, director of St John’s, Smith Square, the festival’s principal London home. For the 2018 festival, he is joined by a guest artistic director, Sébastien Daucé. They are bringing to London a sizeable chunk of French music, musicians and culture under the title of Treasures of the Grand Siècle. Described as an “immersive exploration” of the music of the French Baroque from the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles, the festival features some 22 events over 9 days. It is a comparatively rare opportunity in the UK to hear French Baroque music performed by French musicians including, for the latter part of the festival, Sébastien Daucé’s own group, Ensemble Correspondances. Along with several other musicians performing, I first heard Ensemble Correspondances and Sébastien Daucé when I as reviewing at last years Ambronay festival, reviewed here.
Jean-Baptiste Lully: Alceste
Les Talens Lyriques, Namur Chamber Choir, Christophe Rousset
Launch concert: Opéra Royal, Versailles, 10 December 2017
CD: Aparté AP164, 2CDs. 80’+70.59′
Alceste ou Le Triomphe d’Alcide is an early example of Lully’s tragédie en musique in its fledgeling form of a Prologue followed by five Acts. It uses a libretto by Philippe Quinault, based on Euripides’ Alcestis. The first performance was given in January 1674 by the recently formed Académie Royale de Musique (later known as the Opéra de Paris) at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, adjoining the then residence of the King, the Louvre Palace. The occasion was the Louis XIV’s victory against the Spanish held Franche-Comté during the complexities of the Franco-Dutch War. Lully had only recently taken control of the opera scene in Paris and Versailles, and this was the second of the many operas created during this monopoly. Even though Versailles was not, at the time, the seat of Louis XIV (and indeed, most of it was not yet built), the sumptuous Opéra Royal (built around 100 years later, in 1770) was an appropriate venue for Les Talens Lyriques to launch this CD, with a concert performance.
Les Talens Lyrique, Choeur de chambre de Namur, Christophe Rousset
Aparte AP135. 2CDs. 75’+74′
In sharp contrast to the pared down version of Lully’s Armide I reviewed here, this CD is the real thing, in a stunning performance by Les Talens Lyrique under Christophe Rousset, with a fine cast of soloists and the Choeur de chambre de Namur in support. It is a live recording of a concert given in the Grande Salle Pierre Boulez of the Philharmonie de Paris in December 2015, although there is no evidence of an audience or other extraneous noises that I could hear. Continue reading
Ensemble OrQuesta Baroque
Grimeborn. Arcola Theatre. 9 August 2017
As the deliberately chosen name suggests, Grimeborn is not Glyndebourne, its location in the Arcola Theatre, a converted textile factory in Dalston, East London, being just one of the differences. Founded in 2007, the Grimborn opera festival focuses on new operas and experimental productions of more established repertoire. The limited space and budget in comparison to its more glamorous inspiration is one of its main strengths, as it forces directors, singers and instrumentalists to rethink basic opera practice. One key factor for the singers is that, rather like the more glamorous Iford Opera season, the singers are performing within a few feet of the audience, sitting on three sides of the central stage area. Continue reading
Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik
20-24 August 2015
The annual Innsbruck Festival of Early Music runs for the last 3 weeks of August (14-28) and includes amongst its many events the Cesti international baroque opera singing competition (reviewed separately) and an opera cast from finalists of the previous year’s Cesti competition. This year I was only able to be in Innsbruck for four days (20-24 August) rather than my usual week, so missed some of the potential highlights, including Porpora’s opera Il Germanica and a recital on the rarely heard little 1580 Italian organ in the Silberne Kapelle of the Hofkirche. The theme of the festival was “Stylus phantasticus” but, as in previous years, this was rather loosely interpreted.
The festival opened (for me) in one of the many architectural delights of Innsbruck, the Schloss Ambras (a Hapsburg stronghold since the 1300s) and, in particular, the spectacular Renaissance Spanischer Saal, built for Archduke Ferdinand II around 1570. Niccolo Jommelli’s intermezzo Don Trastullo was originally intended to be performed in two halves between the acts of an opera – making for a long evening. Like others of its kind, it is a light comedy. With just three characters (and a large box from or into which they occasionally popped), the story tells of the elderly Don who is deceived by a flirtatious young woman Arsenia. The actual relationship between them is unclear, but he clearly has taken a shine to her. She leads him on, whilst secretly planing to hoodwink him and make off with his money and her actual lover, an alleged Baron, Giambarone. For this performance, the three characters were sung by soprano Robin Johannsen, bass Federico Sacchi and tenor Franscesco Castoro, with direction from Christoph von Bernuth. The orchestra was the ten-strong Academia Montis Regalis, conducted from the harpsichord by the festival director Alessandro De Marchi.