MYTHS & ALLEGORIES • Les Délices; Clara Rottsolk (sop) • LES DÉLICES (67:29 Text and Translation)
J.F. REBEL Ulysse: selections. La Fidelle. BOURGEOIS Les Sirènes. MONTÉCLAIR Cinquième Suite, “La Guerre.”Read moreDE LA GUERRE Le Sommeil d’Ulisse
French official culture has been infatuated with Greco-Roman myth since Merovingian clerics were encouraged to invent a legendary national founder, Francus, and describe him as a descendant of the Trojans. Roughly 900 years later, in the 16th century, chroniclers such as Johannes Trithemius and Jean Lemaire de Belges were claiming that Trojans themselves settled on French shores. Louis XIV was keen to harness these nationalist myths to the power of the state, and more than any of his predecessors financial supported the arts to spread the lineage and grandeur of his nation.
So it should come as no surprise that this French Baroque program concentrates on the Attic Greek figure of Odysseus/Ulysses, portrayed as a shrewd captain and powerful leader. We get an overture, dances, and two airs from Jean Féry Rebel’s Ulysse (recorded in full by Hugo Reyne on Musiques à la Chabotterie 605003; reviewed in Fanfare 31:5). There’s a short cantata by that underrated composer, Eliszabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, in which Minerva puts Ulysses into a magical sleep to avoid the horrors of a terrible storm unleashed by Neptune; and another cantata by the Belgian-born, French-by-career haute-contre and composer Thomas-Louis Bourgeois, chronicling the efforts of Ulysses and his crew to avoid the deadly call of the Sirens.
The theme gets stretched past its breaking point with two selections, Rebel’s La Fidelle and Montéclair’s suite, La Guerre. These are likened in the liner notes to Penelope’s character and Ulysses’s wartime excursions, though neither was meant to be taken that way by its respective composer. No matter; they are excellent, each in their own way. La Fidelle is part of Rebel’s 12 Sonates à violon seul mellées de plusieurs récits pour la viole, published in 1713. The recitative-like passages allow the violinist to employ double-stops against the viol da gamba, briefly creating trio textures, while the faster passages are reserved in their use of Italianate fireworks that so displeased more conservative French critics. It gives violinist Julie Andrijeski, with her sleek, focused tone, a real chance to shine. Montéclair’s six-movement suite lasts under nine minutes and is a slight thing, but as he wrote in defense to a national audience that would of course agree, his countrymen alone had the ability to compose very short pieces with refined taste. It is a fine vehicle for oboist Debra Negy to show off her unpressured, disciplined sound, and provides a few opportunities to utilize a slow vibrato to good effect as a coloring device.
Les Délices is a relatively youthful ensemble of flexible membership, formed in 2006 under the directorship of Nagy. They have already released one album, The Tastes Reunited (reviewed in Fanfare 33:2), to very positive response in 2009. That was entirely instrumental. This CD gives considerable space to soprano Clara Rottsolk. She’s a fine performer with a focused tone, more rounded than many French singers, and manages the more agile passages and turns within her two cantatas relatively well. “Fuyés, fuyés” from Les Sirènes is a good example of her art, complete with sparing but effective ornamentation, and indicative of the way she works hand in glove with Les Délices’ four instrumentalists. (They perform on baroque oboe, recorder, violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord. No part is listed for organ, but there seems to be an uncredited one in the de la Guerre cantata’s continuo.) For sheer style and technique, Les Délices remains one of the finest French baroque ensembles around, today. This release only confirms that fact. Recommended.