Couperin: Leçons de Ténèbres

Couperin: Leçons de Ténèbres
Sophie Junker,
Florie Valiquette, Orchestre de l’Opéra Royal, Stéphane Fuget
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS034. 53’03

Couperin: Leçons de Ténèbres, Motet pour le jour de Pâques
Lalande: Cantique Quatrième

This recording from the prolific label Château de Versailles Spectacles contrasts Couperin’s well-known Leçons de Ténèbres with his near contemporary Michael Richard de Lalnande’s Cantique Quatrième: Sur le Bonheur des Justes et le Malheur des Réprouvés and his own Motet pour le jour de Pâques: Victoria Christo Resurgenti. One of my biggest issues with this recording is the excessive vibrato from both singers. This not only causes intonation problems but, particularly in French Baroque music, wreaks havoc with the ornaments. One of the accompanying essays is a lengthy analysis of French ornaments, so it is surprising that more effort wasn’t made to keep the surrounding vocal texture reasonably pure toned so that the ornaments could be heard clearly. As it is, the ornaments often come over as just another wobble.

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Purcell: King Arthur

Purcell: King Arthur
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
Alpha Classics. Alpha 430. 2CDs 57’41+40’18

It is often assumed that English opera started with Handel, and missed out on the entire 17th-century development of opera. This is probably due to that very English concept of semi-opera, with musical bits and bobs inserted into a play, with the music based around the supporting cast, rather than the key personnel.  Although, some of the famous bits from Purcell are known but, apart from Dido and Aeneas, we rarely hear the complete music of The Fairy Queen or King Arther. Rarer still is a performance that includes the spoken text of the plays in which the music was performed. I remember the bemused looks on Glyndebourne faces as their Fairy Queen opened with around 45 minutes of spoken text. This outstanding recording, from the distinguished Belgian consort Vox Luminis and their director Lionel Meunier will help to bring more attention to the world of 17th-century English semi-opera. Musically, King Arthur is gorgeous, Dryden’s text creating several moments for Purcell to weave his magic with. Continue reading

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
Barbican, 29 September 2015

The Academy of Ancient Music completed their trilogy of Barbican performances of Monteverdi operas with Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria in what was build as a ‘concert hall staging’, but was as close to a fully-staged opera as you could get without props or scenery. Rather like the recent Monteverdi Choir / London Baroque Soloists production of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at the Royal Opera House, the stage depth was divided into three parts, with the instrumentalists occupying the centre ground. The Gods spent most of their time on the higher level behind the orchestra, with mortals at the front of the stage. Both had forays into the audience, accompanied by rather overdone spotlights brightly illuminating those of the audience sitting near the aisles. Continue reading