Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is one of the very few 17th-century works to have entered the operatic "canon" and developed a modern performance tradition before the late 20th century's early-music revival. For listeners who had grown fond of this opera in its "traditional" form, the period-instrument recordings of recent years have provided some odd surprises: an all-female cast (excepting Aeneas); a baritone Sorceress; singing in a style closer to a Restoration playhouse than Covent Garden.
Released in 1995, this Harmonia Mundi CD of five of Handel's Concerti grossi, Op. 6, is an absolute bargain and highly recommended to any lover of great music. Considering William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are among the most brilliant interpreters of Handel, that these gorgeous works afforded them an ideal platform for their talents, and that Harmonia Mundi provided the best possible engineering to capture their glorious sound, this album is an embarrassment of riches not to be missed.
Ornate, opulent, majestic: Handel's music truly exemplifies the Baroque in its elaborate monumentality, which many listeners associate with his vast, dramatic oratorios. Perhaps lesser known, but hardly less significant is Handel's chamber music, which reveals a different kind of artistry, an intimately refined facet of the Baroque spirit. The contrast between the monumental and the intimate in Handel's music is especially interesting since he cultivated chamber music throughout his career, composing works that reflected the development of his style from its Italianate beginnings to the ultimate richness of his late idiom.
Originating by way of an Aix-En-Provence Festival staging, William Christie and his Arts Florissants bring dramatic flair and musical panache to Mozart's great late Singspiel in equal measure. To begin with, there's a dream cast led by the alluring pairing of Hans Peter Blochwitz as Tamino and Rosa Mannion as Pamina. Anton Scharinger makes for an earthy Papageno, Reinhard Hagen is a commanding Sarastro, whilst Natalie Dessay's input as Queen of the Night comes over in both her showpiece arias as steadfast and electrifying. The casting in depth continues: rare is a Magic Flute that can boast singers of the calibre of Willard White and Linda Kitchen in the relatively small roles of Speaker and Papagena. Then, the uniformly warm vocal blend is homogeneously matched, note for note, with the gut strings and less aggressive winds of Les Arts Florissants. Not that there's anything limp or lacklustre about Christie's brisk tempi; whilst sharp editing maintains the theatrical urgency. The melliflously played "magic" flute and exact keyed glockenspiel input for Papageno's bells are further examples of the care which has gone into this state of the art "authentic" interpretation. With a work like The Magic Flute, recorded choices are voluminous. Neville Marriner with his Academy of St Martins-in-the-Fields on Phillips puts in a brave showing, but William Christie maybe wins out in a thorough interpretation which simultaneously celebrates the opera's joy and mystery. –Duncan Hadfield
The Sicilian nobleman Sigismondo d'India was roughly contemporary with Monteverdi (both began their careers around 1600); the musical ferment of that period led, in d'India's case, to a very heady brew. His madrigals–duets, solos and five-voice works–are like inebriated Monteverdi: d'India set the Italian poetic texts (usually dealing with a lover's pain) with even less regard for academic counterpoint and even more surprising twists of harmony than did his more-famous colleague, yet the music never veers into the disorienting, seemingly willful weirdness of Gesualdo.
Is it fair to say that most born Frenchmen have considered themselves exceedingly fortunate in their nativity? Moi? I didn't enjoy such luck. Neither did Jean-Baptiste Lully, the favorite of Louis XIV and thus the tyrant of French music for thirty-four years. Lully was born in Florence in 1632, but carried to France as a youthful Ganymede; he entered the service of the Sun King in 1653 as a dancer, and he rose to a position of monopoly influence in Louis XIV's court despite his flagrant debauchery and libertine sexuality. Just as Louis declared, that 'he was the State,' Lully could well have said "French Music, it's me!"
Guillaume Bouzignac (1690?-1743?) was not attached to the French Royal Court. His music was not published by Ballard, who held a royal monopoly on musical publication. He MAY have been a choirboy in Narbonne, a master of the choirboys in Grenoble, a musical servant of Henri Montmorency, governor of Languedoc at the time of the wars against the Huguenots, and a person of musical importance in the city of Tours, where the manuscript of these motets was discovered in 1905. That covers almost everything that's known about the composer outside of the very specific information about his musical thought contained in his works.
This superb recording of the compositions of Lully for the court of Louis XIV is almost perfect in delivery; evoking the sophistication, wit, grandeur, humor that would be required to entertain the most demanding of monarchs amidst the most sophisticated court in Europe. The character of Lully is fascinating. Lully was an Italian actor, dancer and musician who becomes the central creative force in music theatre in the court of the Sun King. However it is the flawless music that is contained in this recording that should be heard. With use of period instruments William Christie and Les Arts Florissants paint a range of compositions from various operas and periods in Lully's career in the court of the Sun King.
“Christie's love-affair with Hippolyte informs every note of this mesmerising performance, transporting the listener from enchanting pastoral scenes to ominous, Stygian shores.” BBC Music Magazine