With such a large roll-call of distinguished soloists so ably supported by choir, orchestra and above all Haïm herself, this is well worth having.
This 2-CD set, recorded to mark the tenth anniversary of Le Concert d’Astrée, is not, as you may think – as, indeed, I first thought – a sampler from their back catalogue. It’s a recording of a concert given by them at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris in December 2011 to celebrate the event and to raise money for the charity ‘Cancer Revolution 2010-2013’. We have, in fact, already had a sampler of the music from their regular recordings on a 2-CD album entitled
Handel Arias and Duet,
coupling performances from the Concert d’Astrée back catalogue with those of other artists and released in 2009 for the Handel centenary celebrations (Virgin 6960352).
In spite of some very minor individual reservations, only those lovers of baroque music who react negatively to the Concert d’Astrée’s manner or who dislike live recordings with some applause – and even some ‘audience participation’ – are likely to be put off. The soloists are a mixed bunch in terms of their credentials as baroque specialists; some, like Natalie Dessay, a baroque singer who’s also at home in Richard Strauss; Zerbinetta in
Ariadne auf Naxos
, Virgin Classics 6418679, and Philippe Jaroussky clearly are. Others aren’t, but there’s nothing here that’s seriously unstylish: Anne Sofie von Otter, for example, a less frequent visitor to the baroque, sings in a convincing style in
Quelle plainte en ces lieux m’appelle?
Hippolyte et Aricie
(CD1, track 3) for example.
The first CD opens with a rousing performance of colourful music from
Les Indes Galantes
. It’s so good that I hope that the Concert will record the whole work some time – and that’s true of all the music here that they haven’t already recorded. Christopher Purves in the Cold Scene from Purcell’s
with its uncanny foretaste of Vivaldi’s
(CD1, tr.18) is as convincing as on any version of this semi-opera that I’ve heard.
Emmanuelle Haïm explains in the notes that it would have been impossible to offer an overview of their recorded repertoire, so they wisely concentrated on ‘the composers who guided [their] first steps and to whose music [they] return from time to time.’ That means neglecting Monteverdi, for example, in favour of Rameau, who takes the major share of CD1, Lully, Purcell and, most of all Handel, whose music ends the first CD and takes up the whole of the second. As far as I can see, just one item performed at the concert, from Handel’s early
Aci, Galatea e Polifemo
, has been omitted from the recording.
Haïm’s recordings of Handel have not met with universal acclaim: Robert Hugill found much to admire and enjoy in her live recording of
, for example, but disliked some of the solo vocal contributions from singers not chiefly known as specialists in baroque music: Virgin 6945670, 2 CDs. Sara Mingardo sings Maria Cleophas’s aria
Piangete, sì piangete
from this work on track 6 of CD2 and, whilst she’s not solely a baroque specialist, with Berlioz, Verdi and Bizet roles to her credit, she’s far from unknown in this field. Her performance here is stylish enough and it certainly pleased the audience.
Rolando Villazon gets an even bigger round of applause on the next track for his
Ciel e terra
. He has already sung this aria with the Gabrieli Players and Paul McCreesh on an all-Handel recital which received something of a mixed reception from Göran Forsling (DG 477 8056). His singing on the Virgin set is undoubtedly beautiful and accomplished enough to appeal to an audience of non-specialists and I think it will have the same appeal for most general listeners, though specialists may have some doubts.
With such a large roll-call of distinguished soloists, whom I’ve itemised in the track-listings below – they fill the stage in the double-page spread photograph on pages 18-19 of the booklet – so ably supported by choir, orchestra and above all Haïm herself, this is well worth having. If it’s your first exposure to these composers, you’ll want to follow up its purchase. You may be hard put to know where to begin and that’s where the back reviews of MusicWeb International can help. Click the ‘search’ button and type in the name of the composer and work which has grabbed your fancy. If it’s Rameau’s
Les Indes Galantes
, for example, there’s a wonderful DVD recording of the complete work to which Jonathan Rohr awarded
Recording of the Month
status (Opus Arte OA0923D).
Back in the day, you were either a Lully or a Rameau supporter but today we can enjoy the music of both. There’s music from only one Lully work on
Une fête baroque
, so I’m also going to recommend a recent recording of orchestral suites from three of Lully’s operas to which I’ve been listening from the Naxos Music Library:
Phaëton, Atys et Armide Ouvertures avec tous les Airs
Ouverture avec tous les Airs à jouer de l’Opéra de Phaëton
Ouverture avec tous les Airs à jouer de l’Opéra d’Atys
Ouverture, Chaconne et tous les autres Airs à jouer de l’Opéra d’Armide
Barockorchester Capriccio/Dominik Kiefer (leader) – rec. March 2011. DDD
Pdf booklet included
These suites from three of Lully’s operas are taken from the four-part arrangements published by Estienne Roger in Amsterdam between 1697 and 1712, which is how Lully’s music came to be known outside France. They should appeal to any lovers of French baroque music, even those not especially enamoured of singing – it’s Lully without tears, as it were, for them. With excellent performances – different instrumental figurations for each of the operas – and recording and a valuable set of notes, this is strongly recommended. If only Tudor had given us a more interesting cover all would have been perfect. As it is, I enjoyed this very much.
Those are follow-up suggestions, but the 2-CD 10
anniversary set under consideration is an ideal place to start, with a wealth of wonderful music, performances that are likely to disappoint very few listeners – chiefly those who already know that they don’t like the Concert d’Astrée manner – and recording to match. If the documentation is more noted for style than for substance, that’s my only real reservation about a set which I enjoyed hearing: I could easily have foregone some of the many colour photographs in the booklet for the sake of having the texts and a more detailed set of notes. Even though this set is offered effectively as 2-for-1, that’s no excuse for the omission: some less expensive offerings manage to contain texts.
-- Brian Wilson, MusicWeb International