CPO follows its stellar releases of Conradi's Ariadne and Lully's Thésée by the Boston Early Music Festival with an equally extraordinary performance of Lully's Psyché. These are works that have had limited exposure and are known far better by reputation than by performances or recordings.
Based on a program presented at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2011, this recording, made in a German radio studio in 2013, offers a pair of little-known short operas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. One of the two, La descente d'Orphee aux enfers (not to be confused with a similarly titled cantata), either was left unfinished or has been partially lost; it is missing a finale and resolution to the plot.
What's interesting about the latest outing from this prolific chamber group is not so much that they've chosen to create string quartet adaptations of music from the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance – after all, these are folks who have commissioned arrangements of Jimi Hendrix and Bo Diddley, so we've learned not to be shocked – but rather that they've chosen to juxtapose the works of Machaut, Pérotin and Tye with pieces by John Cage, Moondog and Harry Partch, among other twentieth-century notables.
This album is a real rarity, not for the style of music nor its interpreters, the strange thing is that this music was produced especially for a film and not a vintage film! It was used to accompany the notable Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx (?). It was somewhat controversial the mixture of Renaissance music and the documentary about this cyclist in those times.
You may remember a film from the early 1970s called Henry VIII & his Six Wives, starring Keith Mitchell, Donald Pleasance, and Charlotte Rampling; it was notable for its score, which not only featured authentic music of the period (nearly unheard-of at the time), but also was, according to David Munrow, “the first historical film in which the music has been scored entirely for historical instruments.” Munrow also added a few numbers of his own to satisfy the needs of the movie, patterned after 16th-century style and form. Although these days such attention to authenticity is common, even expected, Munrow was one of the pioneers in bringing musicological research and the more immediate practicalities of really old, original instruments and stylistic practice to the level of popular culture. Of course, also in these early days was planted the impression that period instruments must necessarily be somewhat clunky and (to varying degrees) not quite ideally in tune–and in some cases, just plain annoyingly squawky and prone to obnoxious buzzing noises. While this generally fine issue from Testament offers many reminders of those times, when musicians were still finding their way in unfamiliar territory (and often using very user-unfriendly instruments), this release will prove mostly a delight for early music fans–and will be a real treat for those who own the original LPs from which these tracks were drawn.