Compared to his colleagues in the French Baroque harpsichord business, Rameau wrote relatively little keyboard music. It all fits on two discs. Like the keyboard sonatas of his contemporary Scarlatti, these pieces contain moments when Rameau clearly uses the harpsichord to evoke the sound of the orchestra–trumpets, flutes, and drums–but unlike Scarlatti's, several of these pieces were actually orchestrated and reappear as dance numbers in Rameau's operas. William Christie is our leading exponent of French Baroque opera, Rameau in particular, and it follows that he is alive to every detail in these fascinating and delightful miniatures. At midprice, this is a great deal.-David Hurwitz
Handel's operas–the center of his creative life before oratorios became the focus–have spent far too long in limbo awaiting rediscovery, which slowly started happening in the late '60s with works such as Giulio Cesare. But whether Handelian opera is still a novelty or you're already a rabid convert, this emotionally resonant, crisply played, superbly cast interpretation under William Christie and Les Arts Florissants is likely to shake up some of your ideas about the composer.
The French Baroque air has not been much recorded, even in comparison with the earlier strophic air de cour. But the veteran ensemble Les Arts Florissants, under American-French director William Christie, having brought exposure to a good deal of previously unknown French music, is not slowing down in this regard, and this delightful collection of "serious and drinking airs" might well stimulate other performers to explore the repertory.
This box set assembles the complete Monteverdi recordings that William Christie and Les Arts Florissants made for harmonia mundi over some fifteen years. Together, they constantly refreshed their inspiration at the wellspring of his finest and most famous madrigals, with a memorable incursion into the sacred repertory of the Selva morale.
Rossi's Oratorio per la Settimana Santa is a masterpiece of the period. Its unusual representation of the Crucifixion draws on elements of both the Passion and the Stabat mater traditions. It also includes an almost operatic scene that vividly depicts a descent into Hades. Its moralistic intent was to move the listener through compassion to repentance. This striking recording from William Christie and the ensemble Les Arts Florissants was originally released in 1989.
Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville, although little known, was much less of a petitmaître than Boismortier or Michel Corrette, for instance. Born in 1711, he occupied quite an important place in early eighteenth-century French musical life. He was a fine violinist, a successful composer of church music and an active personality in the "Concerts Spirituels", public concerts which became established in Paris in 1725.
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.