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200 Ans de Musique - Versailles (Versailles - 200 Years of Music)
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2009
Baroque Royalty had big appetites and there were none bigger than those of the French Kings Louis XIII to Louis XVI. They indulged in musical feasts and this 20 CD collection of music spanning the years 1600-1800 features the music the four Kings would have enjoyed at court, chapel and theater. This marvelous boxed set which commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Centre de Musique de Versailles certainly makes me echo Mel Brooks' King Louis in History of the World: Part I, "It's Good to Be the King!"

The superbly produced box divides the repertoire into four broad categories: The Secrets of Versailles at the Time of Louis XIII; The "Pleasures" of Versailles During the Reign of Louis XIV; Refinement at Versailles Under Louis XV; The Twilight of Versailles Under Louis XVI.

Space doesn't permit detailed review of each disc but there are plenty of treasures. I'm not a big fan of the air de cour, but the subtle beauties of music by Antoine Boesset and Robert Ballard receive sensitive and marvelously nuanced performances by soprano Monique Zanetti and lutenist Claire Antonini on the CD devoted to music from the salons of the early French Baroque.

For my tastes, things really get rolling during the reign of Louis XIV. There are two CDs of music by Jean-Baptist Lully including excerpts from his opera Amadis featuring the splendid soprano Véronique Gens. A second CD with excerpts from operas by André Cardinal Destouches, Marin Marais, Pascal Colasse and my favorite composer of the period, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, feature the sensational young mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d'Oustrac. Fans of instrumental music didn't go hungry during the reign of Louis XIV and there is a delightful CD that focuses on the chamber music of François Couperin performed by Les Folies françoises and sets of Symphonies pour les Soupers du Roi by Michel-Richard De Lalande played by Musica Florea. While the performances don't match the polished accounts by Jordi Savall's Hesperion XX and Le Concert Des Nations on the Alia Vox label, they are still plenty good.

There are three CDs dedicated to the sacred music that was heard at the court chapel and the parish churches. Grands motets by Lully, Henry Du Mont, and Henry Desmarest sit alongside petit motets by Couperin and Charpentier. The performances are the best you will ever hear in this repertoire and feature William Christie leading Les Arts Florissants (in a recording licensed from Warner France), Hervé Niquet directing Le Concert Spirituel (a recording licensed from Glossa) and stunning live performances by the Ricercar Consort. The mix of live recordings and carefully selected licensed performances are one of the many things that make the box unique, although for seasoned collectors of this repertoire there might be some duplication.

A more refined style took hold during the reign of Louis XV and one of the chief masters was Jean-Philippe Rameau. Rameau is well-represented on a CD filled with excerpts from his Hippolyte et Aricie (licensed from a Universal studio recording) with Gens singing and Marc Minkowski conducting Les Musiciens du Louvre, and live selections from Les Fêtes d'Hébé, Hippolyte (again) and Zoroastre with the ever-present Gens and Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset.

It was good to be the King indeed and there are a few works that pay homage to his majesty. Zélindor, roi des Sylpes, a brief one act opera-ballet by François Rebel and François Francoeur in praise of Louis XV is given a fetching performance by some fine vocalists and the ensemble Ausonia. The favors of Madame de Pompadour were also enjoyed by the King. She commissioned a number of works for her theater and even appeared in many of them. One of them is the delightful divertissement Ègine, by the little-known composer François Colin De Blamont performed by vocalists and the instrumentalists of Les Nouveaux Caractères.

The sacred music of the time of Louis XV is represented with two CDs that feature such composers as Jean-Joseph De Mondonville and Rameau. Mondonville was a master of the concerted style and the performance of his motet Dominus regnavit by Christie's Les Arts Florissants is thrilling. The excitement Christie and company bring to the Mondonville is matched by the refined elegance that marks their performance of Rameau's In convertendo.

The music of Louis XVI's illustrious predecessors is better known than the works from his reign. In some ways I think the music from the reign of Louis XVI is the most fascinating in the set. There's an absolutely stunning CD of music by the Italian composers Antonio Sacchini and Niccolo Piccinni performed by the glorious soprano Roberta Invernizzi accompanied by Antonio Florio's Cappella della Pietà de'Turchini. Invernizzi is in splendid voice and is the model of elegant vocalism in the Mozartean "Je ne vous quitte point" from Sacchini's Oedipe à Colone and blows the roof off the joint with a virtuoso showcase in "Son regina e son amante" from Piccinni's Didone abbandonata.

A CD of arias and orchestral music from French opera is another gem of the set. Here's the dawn of Romanticism with highly dramatic music by the rarely heard Rodolphe Kreutzer, Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny and the slightly better-known François-Joseph Gossec and André Ernest Modeste Grétry. Remember the name Pierre-Yves Pruvot, he's the muscular voiced baritone who makes a huge impression in arias from operas by these composers. I want to hear this guy sing Don Giovanni some day!

The remaining CDs are also quite good if not life-changing. Symphonies by Gossec, Simon Leduc and Henri-Joseph Rigel receive performances by Le Cercle de l'Harmonie under the direction of Jérémie Rhorer that are better than the music deserves, but you can't help but be delighted by the energy and drive of the ensemble. The always superb fortepianist Andreas Staier plays a recital featuring music by Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, Hyacinthe Jadin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There are some virtuoso turns here, especially in Mozart's Variations on "Lison dormait." I was bored with some too-precious chamber music by François Devienne, Pierre Vachon, Giuseppe Maria Cambini and Luigi Boccherini. Perhaps the best was saved for last, a CD devoted to sacred music by Gossec, François Giroust, and Rigel. Check out the Gossec motet for some superb vocal writing!

The set comes with a thick booklet that, oh wonder of wonders, features complete texts, translations and essays that are actually worth reading. One cavil, the booklet provides a link to a website where there are supposed to be composer biographies, but alas they are not to be found. This is an essential set for anybody interested in the Baroque and offers performances that are as state-of-the-art as anything currently in print. A magnificent achievement all around!
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2011
Just be forewarned that this is a LIVE recording. For me, this ruined the experience of this timeless and beautiful music. The acoustics of the space are not ideal, a bit too bright and reverberant in some of the recordings. Most importantly, however, the audience noise and applause destroyed the perfection of the music. Others who are not disturbed or distracted by this aspect may well love and enjoy these recordings. I will stay with other recordings which retain the purity of the musical sound.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Other than a cryptic logo printed on the various track listings "CMBV saison anniversaire 2007 live", you won't know that this 20 CD set partly collates recordings made live in the fall of 2007, on the occasion of 20th anniversary of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, the research and production center for French 17th-18th-Century music hosted at the Versailles Palace (so much more glamorous than to be a research and production center on rock music hosted in Nashville!). In fact, you don't even get a libretto, but instead a CD containing the documentation in .pdf form... only in French - and not convenient at all if you want to listen to the music from your computer, unless you copy all the documentation before... Other than that 2007 indication, dates of recordings are not given, but I was able to retrieve on the Internet a .pdf brochure of that 2007 festival, so I can reconstruct that info (for those interested: http://three dabya.versaillespourtous [dot] fr/pdf/Presse/2007/dosspress_Lebrun07 [dot] pdf). Seeing the Festival brochure is awe-inspiring: the festival was packed with concerts, given during four weekends from September 21 to October 21, from morning to night, with two simultaneously in different locations. I've checked on the first week-end, from Friday September 21 to Sunday 23, devoted to "The Pleasures of Versailles Under the Reign of Louis the 14th", and the box leaves out much more than it includes (including an organ recital of Gustav Leonhardt, a Charpentier-Lully concert by Christie and Les Arts Florissants, excerpts from Lully's Comedy-Operas by the Sinfonie du Marais under Hugo Reyne). On the other hand, much of the material in the 20-CD set also derives from concerts given in other seasons or based on research made by the CMBV and previously released on commercial recordings, on the labels Laborie, K617, Erato and Archiv.

So, what you get is an overview of music played at Versailles - in fact it isn't that limitative, and I think some of it may have been given in Paris - under the four King Louis. 20 CDs seems a lot but in fact it is not, and we only get a tip-toe into the ocean. Like, two symphonies, by Leduc and Rigel, to summarize the rise of the symphony in the France of Louis 16 (CD 17): five CDs at least would have been needed to give a serious overview. Add to that that some of those CDs time pretty to very short, circa 45 minutes when not, as the one just mentioned, 30:30 minutes! That's really a short dip in the ocean. The original concert, given on September 29, also had Dalayrac's Overture to his opera Renaud d'Ast, and Gosssec's complete Symphonie concertante for flute and violin after the ballet Mirza (here we get only a 1:25 Allegro from it, in fact its first movement, which is not even indicated). Wonder why they didn't make it onto the disc. Performance glitches? The complete Gossec has been recorded by Concerto Köln on an all-Gossec CD, Gossec: Symphonies.

The .pdf booklet provides a substantial introductory overview - but again: only for the French-reading public - but the notes of each individual CD are frustratingly succinct, giving a short presentation of the CD's subject matter (reproducing the 2007 Festival brochure) and short bios of the composers, but absolutely nothing about the specific works and the reasons of their choice. At least the texts of the sung compositions are given (but with no English translation).

Here's a listing of the contents and performers, in English translation, with the additional info about recording dates that I was able to retrieve. If not indicated the year is 2007.

The Secrets of Versailles in the Age of Louis 13.

CD 1 The Precious Salons of the First Baroque Period. 10 Airs de Cour of Antoine Boesset, 2 Pieces for lute of Robert Ballard, 2 anonymous Pieces for lute. Monique Zanetti, Claire Antonioni, live 20 October, TT 34:41

CD 2 Court Music in the Age of Louis the 13th. 11 Airs de Cour of Antoine Boesset, François Richard, François de Chancy, Etienne Moulinié, Michel Lambert, 4 Pieces for harpsichord of Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, Piece for viola basso and lute of Jean Lacquemant aka Dubuisson (the cardboard box wrongly calls it a piece for lute), Piece for lute (in fact lute and harp) of Ennemond Gaultier aka "Le Vieux Gaultier". By Chantal Santon, Gérard Lesne, Jean-François Novelli, Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Il Seminario Musicale, Gérard Lesne, live 20 October, TT 53:56

The "Pleasures" of Versailles in the Reign of Louis 14.

CD 3 Lully, the Founder of French Opera. Isis (excerpts): Barbara Kusa, Jean-François Lombard, Marc Mauillon, Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Les Pages et les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, Musica Florea, Olivier Schneebeli, from CMBV's 2005 season, published by K617, Choeurs D Operas, with excerpts from Amadis, Alceste, Persée and Armide. Amadis (excerpts) live 21 September. Véronique Gens, Benoît Porcherot, David Witczak, Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, Musica Florea, Olivier Schneebeli (not the same cast as the individual excerpt on the K617 CD). TT 73:06

CD 4 Lully and his Successors at the Royal Academy of Music. André Cardinal Destouches: Callirhoé (excerpts), Pascal Colasse: Achille & Polyxène (excerpts), Jean-Baptiste Lully: Persée (excerpts), Chaconne from Marin Marais' Sémélé, Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Medée (excerpts). Stéphanie d'Oustrac, Le Concert Spirituel, Alice Piérot live 22 September, TT. 49:12. The disc's title is somewhat deceptive, as you get mostly instrumental excerpts from the various operas, with only one aria from Destouches, one from Lully and three from Charpentier's Medée, which was not the one that most needed new representation (it's been recorded complete by William Christie and his Arts Florissants, twice), so the disc provides a very slanted and partial view of the subject. Too bad: the instrumental excerpts are great and they make you want to hear the complete operas. Speaking of which: almost the same performers (Concert Spirituel under its music director Hervé Niquet and d'Oustrac a member of the cast) had recorded Destouches' complete Callirhoé in February 2006, Destouches - Callirhoé. Niquet-Concert Spirituel also recorded the complete Marais Sémélé in February 2007, Marais: Sémélé, and finally there's a DVD of a concert performance of the complete Charpentier Médée with the same (and again d'Oustrac in the title role), from October 2, 2004, ASIN B000852G0E on the French sister company.

CD 5 Concerts and Symphonies for the King. François Couperin: First and Second Concert Royal. Les Folies françoises, Patrick Cohen-Akenine, live 22 September. Michel-Richard De Lalande: Symphonies For the King's Suppers, Jean-Baptiste de Lully-the-Son: Concert Given at the King's Supper. Musica Florea, Marek Stryncl, live 22 September. TT 60:17

CD 6 The Triumph of Baroque Piety. François Couperin: Third Leçon des Ténèbres for the Holy Wednesday, Patricia Petibon, Sophie Daneman, Les Arts Florissants, William Christie, an excerpt from the Erato recording from 1997, Couperin - Leçons de Ténèbres / Daneman, Petibon, Les Arts Florissants, Christie. Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Litanies of the Virgin, Miserere ("of the Jesuits", as it was called in the 2007 festival booklet), Edwige Parat, Anne Magouët, Sabine Garrone, François-Nicolas Geslot, Hervé Lamy, Jean-Claude Sarragosse, instrumental soloists, Ensemble Jacques Moderne, Joël Suhubiette, live 23 September. TT 53:10

CD 7 The Chapelle Royale in the Time of Louis 14. Henry Dumont: Exultat animus and Magnificat, Céline Scheen, Hanna Bayodi-Hirt, Mathias Vidal, Lluis Vilamajo, Stephan MacLeod, Collegium vocale of Ghent, Ricercar Consort, Philippe Pierlot, live 22 September (the same concert had Charpentier's Four-Part Mass, on CD 8). Lully: Miserere LWV 125, Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Damien Guillon, Howard Crook, Hervé Lamy, Arnaud Marzorati, Les Pages et les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, Musica Florea, Olivier Schneebeli, from a CD published by the label K617 with other Lully motets, Grands Motets, recorded on 17 and 18 October 2008 during CMBV's Lully Festival. Henry Desmarest: De Profundis, Hanna Bayodi-Hirt, Stéphanie Révidat, François Nicolas Geslot, Sébastien Droy, Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet, from Henry Desmarest: Grands Motets volume 2 on Glossa, recorded in December 2004. TT 65:52

CD 8 Masses and Motets for the Parishes. Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Four-Part Mass of the Dead ("Messes des Morts à Quatre Voix"). Same forces and date as Henry Dumont above. Sébastien de Brossard: In Convertendo. Delphine Colot, Catherine Padaut, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Gilles Ragon, Olivier Lallouette, Jérôme Correas, Chamber Choir Accentues, Ensemble Baroque de Limoges, Christophe Coin, from Sébastien de Brossard: Grandes Motets, on the label Laborie. The track listing claims 1995, but Laborie says the recording was made in June 1997. Henry Desmarest: Usquequo Domine. Sophie Daneman, Rebecca Ockenden, Paul Agnew, Laurent Slaars, Arnaud Marzorati, Les Arts Florissants, William Christie, 1999, Erato, Desmarest: Grands Motets Lorrains. TT 73:02

Versailles in Lace in the Age of Louis 15.

CD 9 Rameau at the Royal Academy of Music. Hppolyte & Aricie Act II (complete) & Act IV (excerpts). Véronique Gens, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Bernarda Fink, Russell Smythe, Laurent Naouri, Luc Coadou, Kean-Louis Georgel, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, recorded during the 1994 seasons, from Rameau - Hippolyte et Aricie / Fouchécourt, Gens, Fink, Feighan, Smythe, Naouri, Massis, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Minkowski on Archiv. Les Talens Lyriques ou Les Fêtes d'Hébé (Overture, one aria and two instrumental excerpts), Hippolyte & Aricie (Overture & two arias), Zoroastre (one aria and one instrumental excerpt) : Véronique Gens, Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset, live 14 October. The same concert, according to the 2007 Festival booklet, had exceprts of Castor & Pollux (but strangely Les Fêtes d'Hébé aren't mentioned; wonder if there was a last-minute replacement), too bad they were discarded in favor of substantial excerpts of Minkowski's studio recording of Hippolyte. TT 65:48

CD 10 Entertainment for the "Well-Beloved". François Rebel and François Francoeur: "Zelindor, King of the Sylphs". Bénédicte Tauran, Mathias Vidal, Arnaud Richard, Aurore Bucher, Ausonia Ensemble, Frédérick Haas & Mira Glodeanu, live October 13. TT 50:38. A rarity, a one-act opera composed by two sons of famous violinists and composers that were both members of the 24 Violins of Louis the 14th, Rebel son of Jean-Ferry and Francoeur son of Joseph. And, yes: two composers, it is not told who composed what - one the arias and the other the recitatives, or one the vocal lines and the other the instrumental parts, or one everything under the middle-stave, and the other above? And yes, Ausonia Ensemble has two music directors and not just in works by two composers, Haas is the harpsichordist and Glodeanu the first fiddler. The "Well-Beloved" was the epithet given to Louis 15 as he was beginning to tread the path to utmost unpopularity, especially on account of his numerous mistresses. I see that the opera was subsequently recorded, for Naxos' invaluable series of 18th century operas, but I'm now out of authorized product links, it is ASIN B002N5KEHE and see comments section for more links.

CD 11 Entertainment for the Théâtre des Petits-Appartements. François Colin de Blamont: "Egine". Virginie Pochon, Caroline Mutel, Jean-Sébastien Bou, Arnaud Marzorati, Les Nouveaux Caractères, Sébastien d'Hérin, live 14 October. TT 49:26. The "Théâtre des Petits-Appartements" was where Madame de Pompadour, the King's most famous mistress, staged performances for the entertainment of the King in which she herself performed.

CD 12 At the Concert Spirituel. Various vocal soloists, Les Arts Florissants, William Christie perform Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville: Dominus regnativt, from the 1996 season, excerpt from Christie/Erato's Mondonville-Motets CD, ASIN B000005E5D. Rameau: In Convertendo, from Christie/Erato's Rameau-Motets CD, ASIN B000005EDC, recording date not given in the .pdf booklet, but it is June 1994. TT 45:19

CD 13 The Chapelle Royale in the Time of Louis the 14th. André Campra: Confitebor tibi domine, Mondonville: Nisi Dominus. Isabelle Poulenard, Robert Getchell, Romain Champion, Marc Mauillon, Christophe Crapperon, Le Parnasse Français, Louis Castelain, live 12 October. Claude-Bénigne Balbastre: Air & Duo for organ, Michel Corrette: Noël "Vous qui désirez sans fin", Louis-Claude Dacquin: Noël sur les jeux d'anches. Olivier Latry excerpts from the live concert, 29 September (the rest is on CD 20). TT 54:57

CD 14 The Rebirth of the French Orchestra. Michel-Richard De Lalande: Les Folies de Cardenio (excerpts), Ensemble Baroque de Limoges, Christophe Coin. From information retrieved online, it appears that the Ensemble performed the complete ballet (after a minor episode in Don Quixote) during the Centre de Musique Baroque's Lalande Festival in October 2001, but the excerpts here are taken from the studio recording they made in September 2004 for the small label Laborie, ASIN B000ENV2UA. Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondoville: Sonate en Symphonies opus 3 No. 4 & 6, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, from the 1996 season, excerpts from the disc published by Archiv, ASIN B000007N58. TT 60:28

The Last Flames of Versailles under the Reign of Louis XVI.

CD 15 The Italians at the Court of France. Antonio Sacchini: Oedipe à Colonne (excerpts), Niccolo Piccinni: Didon (excerpts), Didone abbandonata (excerpts): Roberta Invernizzi, Cappella della Pietà de' Turchini, Antonio Florio, live 28 september. TT 50:53. Two commercial recordings of Sacchini's Oedipe are listed on this website (Naxos and Dynamic), and one of Piccinni's Didon (Dynamic). Although it is not said explicitly, Didone abbandonata was not composed in or for Versailles or Paris, it was one of Piccini's Italian Opera Seria on a Metastasio libretto, premiered in Rome in 1770 way before the composer came to Paris, the rationale for including it is that individual arias were regularly played at the Concerts Spirituels and other concert societies in Paris. The same ensemble, with singers Roberta Invernizzi, Maria Ercolano, Dionisa Di Vico, Luca Dordolo and Milena Georgieva, gave what was, according to Italian Wikipedia, the only modern representation, on October 24 2003 at Cité de la Musique in Paris. Apparently it's never been released commercially but the Mediathèque of Cité de la Musique holds the archive tape.

CD 16 French Opera at the Threshold of Romanticism. Antonio Sacchini: Dardanus Overture, Rodolphe Kreutzer: aria from La Mort d'Abel, Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny: aria from Le Déserteur, Jean-François Lesueur: aria from La Caverne, François-Joseph Gossec: orchestral-suite from Sabinus, François-André Danican Philidor: aria from Ernelinde princesse de Norvège. Arias sung by Pierre-Yves Pruvot (baritone), Les Agrémens, Guy van Waas live 29 September. André-Modeste Grétry: Le Huron Overture, aria from La Fausse Magie, aria from L'Amant jaloux; Isabelle Poulenard (soprano), Les Paladins, Jérôme Correas live 29 September, TT 62:35

CD 17 The Rise of the French Symphony. François-Joseph Gossec: Allegro from the Symphonie concertante in D from the ballet Mirza, Simon Leduc: Symphony in E flat major, Henri-Joseph Rigel: Symphony in D. Le Cercle de L'Harmonie, Jérémie Rhorer, live 29 September, TT 30:32. Incidentally, the same Rigel symphony has also been recorded by Concerto Köln on a valuable, all-Rigel disc, ASIN B001IMFHSE.

CD 18 The Early Hours of the Fortepiano. Claude-Bénigne Balbastre: Prélude in C, Mozart: Paris Sonata in A minor K. 310, Hyacinthe Jadin: Sonata in D op. 5 no. 2, Mozart 9 Variations on "Lison dormait..." K 264. Andreas Staier, live 30 September, TT 47:38

CD 19 The Salons of Versailles in the Age of Enlightenment. François Devienne: Flute Quartet in A minor opus 66 no. 1, Pierre Vachon: String Quartet in F minor op. 5 no. 3, Giuseppe Maria Cambini: SQ in G minor op. 18 no. 2, Luigi Boccherini: Flute Quintet in E flat op. 21 no. 6. Alexis Kossenko, flute, Cambini Quartet, live 30 September, TT 48:03

CD 20 The New Accents of Faith in the Age of Louis the 16th: François-Joseph Gossec: Terribilis est, François Giroust: Benedic anima mea. Kareen Durand, Cyril Auvity, James Oxley, Alain Buet, Chaeur de chambre de Namur (chorus master Jean Tubéry), Les Agremens, Jean-Claude Malgoire. From the CMBV 2005 season, already published by K617, ASIN B000F8MH8U, with Gretry's Confitebor. Henri-Joseph Rigel: La Sortie d'Egypte (The Flight from Egypt). Isabelle Poulenard, Philippe Do, Alain Buet, Les Chantres du Centrre de Musique Baroque de Versaillles, Orchestre des Folies françoises, Olivier Schneebeli. 2006 season, K617, ASIN B000NA7FMI, with two other cantatas by the same composer. Nicolas Séjean: Noël suisse, Guillaume Lasceux: Morceau pour les Flûtes, Claude-Bénigne Balbastre: Variations on the "Marche des Marseillais" and the song "Ça ira", Olivier Latry, organ, excerpts from the live concert, 29 September. TT 76:59

The set is a great introduction to "musique française" under the four Louis, from the intimate lute pieces of Robert Ballard (CD 1) to the lush and merry symphonies for the supper of Louis 14 (CD 5) and those of the pre-revolution era (CD 17), or from the simple, lute-accompanied and madrigal-like Airs de Cour by Antoine Boesset (CD 1 & 2), written very much in a galant and precious style suited to the aristocratic salons (and rapidly somewhat boring to my ears - didn't the 17th century aristocrats ever get tired of hearing plaintive reproaches to the untruthful lover? The two a cappella four-part songs of François de Chancy in the style of the comic madrigals of Vecchi, CD 2 tracks 11 & 12, are, naturally, much more fun) to the grandiose and lush Motets of Gossec and Giroust (CD 20). For the true amateur and collector, the set is of course more valuable for what had not been published earlier, and the inclusion of so many excerpts from previously released CDs is somewhat frustrating, especially in view of all that was left out from the 2007 Festival.

Obviously I can't comment on everything but I'll give a few notes.

The Lully excerpts (CD 3) are interesting for their use of 17th French pronunciation (or what can be known of it). It will come as a (mild) shock to everybody familiar with the language, not just for the use of the so-called Normand pronunciation of the vowel oi [phonetic wa], pronounced oué, [we], but also because all the consonants at the end of the "masculine rimes" (words NOT ending with the so-called e muet sound) are pronounced, especially the plural s. So "rois" (kings) is pronounced [rwes]. The effect is vaguely ridiculous, but I can well see the poetic necessity of it. Note that with that pronunciation, a king sounds exactly like a lecher (roué). No wonder they decapitated them. The Chorus of the People from the Frozen Climates in Isis (track 3) sings with a trembling effect reminiscent of the Cold Genius' Aria "what power art thou" in Purcell's King Arthur - but Purcell's was premiered in 1691, Isis in 1677. There is also a number with anvil hammering like in Rheingold (track 4).

Despite the beautiful melismata of Couperin's Leçon des Ténèbres (CD 6), harking back to the Italian madrigals of the time of Monteverdi and Luzzaschi, "the triumph of Baroque piety" and religious music in the era of Louis 14, as sampled on CDs 6 to 8, seems to have been a rather uniformly doleful and boring affair. No Handel- or Bach-like jubilation here. Only Sébastien de Brossard's In concertendo (CD 8) strays from that model and offers more variety and invention. But the closest you get to Handel is De Lalande's Symphonies For the King's Suppers and Lully-son's Concert (CD 5), from which I infer that material nourishment was a more festive and joyous occasion for the Sun-King (known to be a huge eater indeed) than the spiritual one.

De Lalande's Folies de Cardenio (CD 14) is not very advanced in form and language, very reminiscent of the Lully Ballets de Cour of Louis the 14th, but nonetheless hugely entertaining, with numbers like the "Air and Menuet for the Chinese" or "Air for the Indians" evoking Rameau's Indes Galantes turned into a ballet, a boisterous "Air for the Combattants" with original percussion effects, a pastoral "Call of the Shepherds" with the inescapable oboe, a folk-like "muzette" with the droning instrument that could be out of Michel Corrette , passages with regal trumpets reminiscent of Handel's Water Music and a concluding "Tempest" integral with thundering wind-sheet, making it frustrating not to have the complete work.

CDs 10 & 11 offer two rarities, Rebel & Francoeur's Zelindor and De Blamont's Egine. The former isn't great, too uniformly plangent (Fairy King woos fair mortal, mortal first resists, then gives in, the old stale story, and an unabashed panegyric of Royal Adultery), with lots of recitatives, but it has a few fine instrumental numbers, like the "Prelude dansé", track 4, the "Prelude for the Genies of the Elements", track 11, or the final Chaconne, track 18. We are not told what the final Chaconne is supposed to depict, but some "moaning" strains give a hint that it may be an anticipation of the having-sex scene in Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mzensk. On the other hand De Blamont's Egine is superb, with the standard inept libretto (fair mortal is harassed by Sysiphus but loves and is loved by Jupiter in mortal guise, all will end well except for the bad guy, Jupiter swears fair mortal-become-Goddess eternal fidelity yeah sure you bet honey blame only yourself if ever you fell for it, and there's even a allegorical Prologue with Thetis, the Goddess of calm waters complaining about the Hero's constant Discord-mongering wars, but announcement comes of the Hero's benign victories and return to peace) but the orchestral imagination and lushness of Rameau (whom de Blamont admired immensely), including a marvelous Symphony of birds (track 24), and what must be one of the most touching declarations of love in the history of opera (track 29, "You love me - I adore you - Let us repeat to each other one hundred times such a lovely vow")

The four motets from the age of Louis 15 (Campra, Rameau, two by Mondonville) gathered on CDs 12 & 13 let you hint at a lost continent of grandiose and powerful beauty.

As those from the age of Louis 14, the excerpts from operas in the age of Louis 16 (CD 15 & 16) are frustrating for offering just minuscule dips - only two arias from Sacchini's Oedipe, one from Piccini's Didon and from his Italian Opera Seria Didone abbandonata. On the other hand an 11-minute Overture (Piccini's Didon, on CD 15) may be too much of a good thing - but that's the composer's fault, not the collection's. Fortunately the French texts are provided in the .pdf booklet (but no English translation), because Invernizzi's French, with her consonants giving the impression of marshmellow (typo intended) rather than flint, is incomprehensible without it.

Nonetheless, for what we get, the opera excerpts on CD 16 performed by Pierre-Yves Pruvot and Les Agrémens are great, Gluck-inspired, somber and dramatic, to make you frustrated that you can't hear the complete works. The Grétry arias sung by Isabelle Poulenard are not as impressive (but it may be because Poulenard doesn't have the same kind of dramatic vocal heft has Pruvot). The selections of chamber music (CD 19) are rather fluffy, the two symphonies of Leduc and Rigel (CD 17) are fine, and so is the fortepiano recital of Andreas Staier (CD 18), playing on an excellent instrument, to make you understand after all why it supplanted the harpsichord, but it is more a Mozart recital than one of French composers from the era of Louis 16: certainly the choice of K310 is fitting, since it was composed during Mozart's 1778 (unsuccessful) visit in Paris, and it is true that the comparison of Jadin's Sonata with Mozart's does not turn in favor of the former (innocuous salon music), but the Balbastre prelude (track 1) is great, with the freedom of invention of CPE Bach. Staier segues directly in Mozart's K.310, as if the Balbastre was a slow introduction to the Sonata. The liner notes don't explain that daring touch. Did Mozart play piano four-hands with Balbastre on his visit to Paris, or something? The two choral works of Gossec and Giroust from the reign of Louis 16 conducted by Malgoire (CD 20) are magnificent and grandiose: you realize (or, if you already know Gossec's 1760 "Grande Messe des Morts", get confirmation) that Mozart's Requiem and Haydn's Nelson-Mass didn't just come out of nowhere. Hearing Giroust motet, I don't understand why he is so little represented on disc. Rigel's Sortie d'Egypte is more commonly French operatic, but has many striking moments as well.

It is not without irony I guess (and a very French one too) that the last track of the last CD (The New Accents of Faith in the Age of Louis the 16th) should be Claude-Bénigne Balbastre's variations on the Marseillaise and the anti-aristocratic song "Ah ça ira". I think Louis the 16th could have dreamt of a more appropriate homage: it's the kind of music that made him loose his head. But after all, it is fitting. Like many others, Balbastre, who had begun his career under the ancient regime and been honored by it, had to turn his jacket inside out when came the new times, if only to survive. Yes indeed, that was the new faith - at least for a little while. Or maybe not: look at the new 75 % income tax raised by the French socialist government: still is, it seems.
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on September 25, 2014
This is wonderful introduction to, and Grand Tour of, William Christie and other masters of interpretation, recorded at Versailles. Some have taken issue with reverberation in the concert halls, which no doubt were not designed with modern recording acoustics in mind, but to my ears this is no big deal. If applause bothers you, then steer away, but this is a highly civilized audience. No throwing beer bottles at the soprano. At Amazon retail you're getting an astonishingly fine selection of music from the truly Good Old Days of French music for about $4.50/disc, spanning the courts of Louis XIII and XIV, XV, XVI, all those guys. Some of this is very plain, just voice and lute, but OMG, what voice and what lute. Everything here is heavenly, and the quality of conducting and performance is hardly to be surpassed. I just bought a fine FM tuner from the mid-1970s, and what I mostly hear people complain about is the compromised quality of the signal, which is a problem. But the real problem is that FM classical radio never includes this stuff. There's often challenging music, but it's more modern, as if somehow introducing audiences to that is ethically required. But when you're not hearing Vivaldi (a genius, note), or Britten (same) you're right back to Fidelio. The byways of the Baroque and other time zones of music go unheard. Feast upon a fabulous banquet of that here.
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This is a 69 year old student of musicology and performance with a overwhelming understanding of all things French.
This is an advised statement from a simple person of many years
and a Doctorate.
This is exquisite,
Harold Edward Wills
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3 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Very good delivery,arriving in 4 days of ordering.
Broad representation of French Court Music from Louis XIII to XVI. In-depth pieces can be found on Harmonia Mundi collection of William Christie's Les Arts Florissants
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