This year 2020 has been a great year for historically informed performances, especially in France where ensembles working with period instruments (or copies of instruments) have made me discover rare works from the French repertoire in their most beautiful finery.
Les Plaisirs du Louvre : Airs pour la Chambre de Louis XIII (Ensemble Correspondances – Sébastien Daucé)
Luxury, calm and voluptuousness at the court of Louis XIII! This album of courtly air from the reign of King Louis XIII is dazzling and plunges the listener into the atmosphere of the court of the King of France in the first half of the 17th century, as « the reign of Louis XIII itself represents the golden age of this galant culture, whose musical emblem, the air de cour, pervaded the whole of society and was heard in all the salons, galleries and ruelles1 of the capital’s aristocratic residences, and especially the most symbolic of them: the Louvre. » Sébastien Daucé, his ensemble Correspondances and a dazzling line-up of outstanding French singers surpassed themselves to embody these courtly arias, which Thomas Leconte explains in the excellent libretto of the disc that they consisted of « short settings of refined galant poetry, the growing taste for which subsequently spread to literary, aristocratic and bourgeois circles. With its subtle music capable of expressing all the nuances of the realm of love, the air de cour was one of the emblematic elements of a society where the honnête homme devoted himself to the art of pleasing his entourage (plaire) and expressing himself elegantly (bien dire) according to the codes of galant culture imposed by literary préciosité« .
Méditations pour le Carême – Charpentier (Ensemble les Surprises – Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas)
After the splendour of the Louvre during the reign of Louis XIII, a change of mood with the Meditations for Lent by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), which were saved from oblivion by Sebastien de Brossard, a composer, music theorist and above all one of the greatest collectors of his time, who preserved this cycle of small motets by Charpentier in his collection. As Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas explains, « these pieces by Charpentier are veritable tableaux that enjoin the listener to meditation. They were composed at a time when the season of Lent and Holy Week was conducive to listening to highly expressive musical works (such as the famous Leçons de Ténèbres). During this period of the year, when the theatres and opera houses were closed, music-loving high society flocked to hear concerts performed in church. The composers of the day surpassed themselves in writing dramatic music, sometimes achieving a degree of harmonic richness and of suavity that shocked the most pious attendees! »! Built around the figure of Sebastien de Brossard, the programme of this album also allows one to discover two motets by Brossard as well as instrumental pieces by Marin Marais and Robert de Visée. This recording of the ensemble Les Surprises and Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas is one of my musical favourites of 2020, thanks to the admirable work of all the musicians of this young ensemble, which was co-founded by Juliette Guignard and Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas 10 years ago.
Richard Cœur de Lion – Grétry (Le Concert Spirituel – Hervé Niquet)
After the release of a wonderful recording by Raoul Barbe-Bleue last year, here is another opera by André Grétry (1741-1813) which I discovered with great pleasure. This production of Richard Cœur de Lion is the « first complete production of the Royal Opera of Versailles since 1789 ». This opera, which was a great success in the 1780s, has remained in the history of the Revolution, as « The royal by the Bodyguards of Louis XVI at their banquet on the 1st October 1789 greet Marie-Antoinette and the King, which infuriates the people Encouraging the mob to congregate at Versailles, to force the royal family to leave the château on October 6, never to return… It was the end of Versailles and its Royal Opera House. » (Recording booklet). This flamboyant recording by Hervé Niquet, Le Concert Spirituel and a fine cast of singers is just as delightful as this comic opera, which can be considered a work of transition between the classical and romantic periods: « There are many attractions in Richard the Lionheart. At times, the inspiration is stronger and broader than usual in Grétry. With this beautifully evoked Middle Ages, a pre-romantic colour is already taking shape. The romance that serves as a theme of recognition already plays a role as a driving motif in the dramatic action ». (Source: Château de Versailles-Spectacles)