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CD reviews

"Le coucher du Roi - Music four Louis XIV's chamber"

Eugénie Lefèbvreb, Danaé Monniéab, dessus; Etienne Bazolab, Marc Mauillona, basse-taille; Valérie Balssa, Thomas Leconte, transverse flute; Josèphe Cottet, Yoko Karakubo, Birgit Gorisb, Béatrice Linonb, violin; Myriam Rignol, Mathilde Vialle, Julie Dessaint, viola da gamba; Antoine Touche, bass violinb; Caroline Lieby, harpb; Romain Falika, Thibaut Roussel, theorbo, guitara; Sébastien Daucé, harpsichord

rec: July 15 - 18, 2019a, June 22, 2020b, Versailles, Château
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS029 (CDa, DVD-Videob) (© 2020) (74'00"a / 61'55"b)
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Michel de LA BARRE (c1675-1745): Plainte; Sébastien LE CAMUS (c1610-1677): Ah! Qui peut tranquillement attendre; Laissez durer la nuit; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): XVe Ordre in a minor (Le Dodo ou L'amour de Berceau, pièce croisée); Michel-Richard de LALANDE (1657-1726): Grande pièce Royale; Prélude; Michel LAMBERT (1610-1696): Dialogue de Marc-Antoine et de Cléopâtre; Sombres déserts (attr): Étienne LEMOYNE (c1640-1715): Prélude; Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Atys (Plainte d'Atys); Jean-Baptiste LULLY, arr Robert DE VISÉE (c1650/65-after 1732): Le bourgeois gentilhomme (Chaconne des Harlequins); Jean-Baptiste LULLY, arr Anne Danican PHILIDOR (1681-1728): Suite in G ré Sol; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Bransle de Village; Gigue; Rigaudon; Robert DE VISÉE: La Conversation; La Mutine, allemande gaye; Passacaille; Prélude
Sébastien LE CAMUS: Laissez durer la nuit; François COUPERIN: XVe Ordre in a minor (Le Dodo ou L'amour de Berceau, pièce croisée); Louis-Antoine DORNEL(1685-1765): Sonate en quatuor op. 1; Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE 'le Romain' (1673-1763); 4eme Sonate en trio; Michel-Richard de LALANDE: Grande pièce Royale; L'amour fléchi par la constance (Tant qu'a duré la nuit); Prélude; Michel LAMBERT: Ah! Puisque la rigueur extrême; Pour être aimé; Sombres déserts (attr); Jean-Baptiste LULLY: Atys (Simphonie du Sommeil); Robert DE VISÉE: Prélude

Life at and around the court of Louis XIV of France was strongly regulated and codified. There were some rituals that never changed and were performed with painstaking precision every day. One of them was the ceremony that ended with the King going to bed. Before that, he was used to be entertained by some of the musicians at his court who played his favourite music. That was very different from the splendid music performed as part of evening entertainment, in the chapel or in the opera. This was small-scale music, either performed in its original scoring, or arranged to trios by Anne Danican Philidor, the librarian of the King's Music.

The programme on the disc under review here brings us to such an event in 1713. It includes the music that could have been performed at some night that year, two years before the death of the Sun King. It lends the programme a strong amount of nostalgia: the music that is performed has accompanied the King since many years, and there are even pieces that he may have danced to in his youth. There is music by Jean-Baptiste Lully, the Italian who in his youth had been engaged to establish a true French opera, as an alternative to the Italian opera which conquered the entire continent.

Lully's father-in-law, Michel Lambert, is also represented with some songs. In his time he was one of the main representatives of a genre of vocal music specifically connected to the court, the air de cour. The performance opens with pieces by Michel-Richard de Lalande, one of the King's favourite composers, whose grands motets were frequently performed at the Chapelle Royale. He also composed Simphonies pour les soupers du roy, music to be performed during the King's meals.

A special place was reserved for Robert de Visée, who was not only a brilliant theorbo player, but also the personal guitar teacher of the King. Among all his musicians, it was Visée who had the most intimate relationship with him. Marin Marais was the star gambist, alongside Étienne Lemoyne, who was also a professional theorbo player, and Michael de La Barre played the instrument which in the King's later years gained popularity, the transverse flute. François Couperin was also a relatively new addition to the King's music establishment, acting as a replacement for the blind d'Anglebert and as teacher of several princesses of the royal family.

This disc offers an interesting insight into music life at the court of Louis XIV. This time it is not its splendour, in the form of operas or grands motets that is presented, but music as performed at the King's chamber, more intimate and reflecting what was close to his heart. Here we get into the inside of the King's musical taste rather than the outside, which was partly ceremonial and representative. It also shows the specific character of French music, which is very different from what was written in Italy. Take Lambert's Dialogue de Marc-Antoine et de Cléopâtre: it has an intimacy that we would never hear in a comparable piece by an Italian composer. Visée's La Conversation may well be considered the core of what was typical of the French style: music as conversation.

Obviously, a chaconne and a passacaille could not be omitted. These were a fixed part of any opera, and also appeared in many instrumental works of the time. Another typical feature of French music was the Plainte, the French version of what was known as the lamento in Italian music, but then far less dramatic and demonstrative. Again, its origin was in the opera, but it had made its way into instrumental music.

It needs special skills to perform this music idiomatically. A too dramatic approach would distort it, but too much restraint may turn it into a rather dull affair. Nothing of that is the case here. The performers are fully acquainted with this kind of repertoire, and have found the right way of performing it. This is indeed a rather quiet programme, in accordance with the circumstances under which it was performed in Louis' chamber. The music and the qualities of the performers guarantee a special kind of entertainment, ideally suited to be savoured at a quiet evening.

This production comes with a DVD-Video. The programme is a little different and there is also some difference in the ensemble; unfortunately, the programme of the DVD is not specified in the booklet. Musically speaking, CD and DVD are of the same quality; the pictures at the DVD don't add something substantial to the music, but it is nice to look at the various chambers and halls in the palace at Versailles. The omission of subtitles is a missed opportunity.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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