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"Festin Royal du Mariage du Comte d'Artois - Versailles 1773"

Les Ambassadeurs ~ La Grande Écurie
Dir: Alexis Kossenko

rec: Nov 12 - 16, 2022, Versailles, Opéra Royal
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS101 (© 2022) (2.05'56")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

[Première Suite] François FRANCOEUR (1698-1787): Ouverture (Jean-Baptiste LULLY, Armide, arr 1745?/1761?); Air grave (Ballet de la Paix, 1769); Pierre-Montain BERTON (1727-1780): Air vif (André CAMPRA, Camille reine des Volsques, 1760): René DE GALARD DE BÉARN, marquis de Brassac (1698-1771): Air (L'Empire de l'Amour, 1733); Antoine DAUVERGNE (1713-1797): Air gay (Enée et Lavinie, 1758); Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace ROYER: Rondeau gracieux et tendre; Chasse en rondeau (Zaïde, 1739); François FRANCOEUR: Chaconne (Ballet de la Paix, 1738)
[Deuxième Suite] François FRANCOEUR: Ouverture (Scanderberg, 1736): Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Air majestueux (Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, 1747); François FRANCOEUR: Air gracieux (Pyrame et Thisbé, 1771); Air vif (Recueil de différents airs de symphonie de M. Francoeur); Première et deuxième gavottes (Jean-Baptiste LULLY, Armide, 1745?/1761?): Antoine DAUVERGNE: Air très vif (Enée et Lavinie, 1758); François FRANCOEUR: Air marqué (Ballet de la Félicité, 1745/Scanderberg, 1771); Bernard DE BURY (1720-1785): Air en chaconne vive (Jean-Baptiste LULLY, Armide, 1770); Jean-Joseph Cassanéa DE MONDONVILLE (1711-1772): Première et deuxième gavottes (Isbé, 1742); François FRANCOEUR: Air vif (Recueil de différents airs de symphonie de M. Francoeur); Jean-Philippe RAMEAU: Première et deuxième gavottes (Dardanus, 1744); François FRANCOEUR: Contredanse (Recueil de différents airs de symphonie de M. Francoeur)
[Troisième Suite] Jean-Philippe RAMEAU: Marche (Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, 1747): Bernard DE BURY: Air lent; Rondeau léger (Hylas et Zélis, 1762): Jean-Philippe RAMEAU: Rondeau gracieux (Les Surprises de l'Amour, 1748/1757); Air vif (Hippolyte et Aricie, 1757); Joseph Hyacinthe FERRAND (1709-1791): Rondeau gracieux (Zélie, 1749); Jean-Claude TRIAL (1732-1771): Contredanse vive (La Fête de Flore, 1770); François FRANCOEUR: Chaconne (Le Prince de Noisy, 1770); Pierre-Montain BERTON: Chaconne (Henri DESMAREST/André CAMPRA, Iphigénie en Tauride, 1761)
[Quatrième Suite] Jean-Philippe RAMEAU: Ouverture (Zaïs, 1748); Menuet gracieux (Le Temple de la Gloire, 1745); Rondeau (Dardanus, 1748); François FRANCOEUR: Air tendre (La Rosière de Salency, 1769); Air en rondeau (Jean-Baptiste LULLY, Armide, 1745?/1761?); Louis GRANIER (1725-1800): Air gracieux; Antoine DAUVERGNE: Entrée de chasseurs (Enée et Lavinie, 1758); François FRANCOEUR: Premier et deuxième rondeau (Pyrame et Thisbé); Rondeau gai (Le Prince de Noisy, 1749); Jean-Joseph Cassanéa DE MONDONVILLE: Musette (Titon et l'Aurore, 1753); Musette (Le Carnaval du Parnasse, 1749); François REBEL* (1701-1775) / François FRANCOEUR: Premier menuet* - Deuxième menuet** (André CAMPRA, L'Europe galante, 1755/1764/1768); Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace ROYER: Chaconne (Pyrrhus, 1730); Jean-Philippe RAMEAU: Premier et deuxième tambourins (Dardanus, 1744)

There was a time when orchestral music from the baroque period was played by orchestras of symphonic proportions. That changed when historical performance emerged. In the course of time, performances by small ensembles, with only a few instruments per part, became the standard. However, there is much evidence of performances by large ensembles, especially when something important was to celebrate, like a military victory, the signing of a peace treaty or events in a royal family. The latter was especially the case in France: as the king was basically the owner of the country (l'état c'est moi), a royal birth or wedding was a reason to celebrate across the country, and especially at the palace.

Between 1770 and 1773 there were no fewer than three weddings in Versailles, by three grandsons of Louis XV, potential pretenders to the throne. Although France was in a poor financial state, due to the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), Louis did not want to abandon large-scale festivities, and as music played a central role in French public life, the wedding could not be without opera, balls and theatre performances. The wedding of the Count of Artois to Marie Thérèse of Savoy in November 1773 is a case in point, and this was the inspiration for the production that is the subject of this review.

Part of the celebrations was the ceremonial wedding dinner, and this had to be accompanied by music. It was the task of François Francoeur, Surintendant de la Musique de la Chambre du roi, to put together a sequence of pieces to be played during the meal. What music to turn to? Independent orchestral music did not exist in France; the time of the symphony had not come as yet. Orchestral music was what was played at the Opéra: each French opera included a number of dances, often called air, or character pieces. Francoeur took his predecessor Michel-Richard de Lalande as an example: for the meals of his employer Louis XIV he put together suites whose movements were taken from his theatrical works. Francoeur knew his way in opera: from 1757 he was director of the Opéra, a function he shared with François Rebel. Together they had written many works for the stage, and in their new capacity they regularly reworked older music, for instance by Lully. This explains that, when Francoeur had to put together the music for the wedding dinner, he not only used music of his own pen, but also pieces by other composers, written quite some time ago, such as Les Génies du Feu from 1733, by René de Galard de Béarn, marquis de Brassac, and pieces from works by Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, first performed in 1730 and 1739 respectively. Lully was also represented with pieces that Francoeur had adapted himself, such as two gavottes, taken from Lully's Armide.

The result is much variety, both stylistically and in scoring. As far as the former aspect is concerned: whereas in Lully's time dances were mostly used for ballet, in later operas they were rather part of the drama, such as in operas by Rameau. Obviously, the music was very much French. As Alexis Kossenko writes in the booklet: "Is it really surprising that, in the context of a royal celebration with a political aim, one wanted to pretend to ignore that the Italian style had definitively crossed the final ramparts of the Parisian stage and that Francœur chose to make works emblematic of the great French style resound? The four immense chaconnes (which exceed three hundred bars, for a duration of more than eight minutes) seem to embody the greatness and inviolability of the French monarchy." However, the orchestra had changed considerably with time. Gone were the quinte de violon and the haute-contre de violon. The orchestra which played the music during the wedding dinner had an line-up known from Italian orchestras: violins, violas, cellos and double basses, plus winds, percussion and keyboard. And that brings us to the most notable aspect of this recording: the size of the orchestra.

It was known that a large number of players was involved. A document from 1773, from the pen of a bassoonist of the king's music, indicates that 70 musicians were taking part: 26 violins, 6 violas, 14 cellos, 4 double basses, 2 transverse flutes, 4 oboes, 2 clarinets, 6 bassoons, 4 horns, 1 trumpet and 1 timpani. This is more or less confirmed by a document of 1770. The line-up shows how much had changed as far as the scoring of music was concerned: in the old times, the orchestra consisted of strings, with oboes mainly playing colla parte, and wind instruments sometimes used for special effects. In 1773, the orchestra included horns and the relatively new clarinets. It results in a sound palette which is very different from that the orchestral forces produced in the Opéra about half a century earlier.

In 2022 Alexis Kossenko presented this programme in the Festival Early Music Utrecht, and I was quite impressed, both by the music and the way it was performed. This CD production shows that during the concert only about half of the music collected by Francoeur was performed. The entire collection is takes just over two hours, and I have been listening to the whole programme at a stretch. I have not been bored for a single minute. This is just a glorious production. That is due to Francoeur, who undoubtedly was a very knowledgeable, but also critical mind, and knew exactly how to present the best of what France had to offer musically. It is also due to Kossenko and his great ensemble, which deliver sparkling performances. The dances are performed with great precision, and have an irresistable rhythm. The dramatic pieces the atmosphere of the theatre is perfectly realised. The contributions of the winds, and especially the horns, are noteworthy.

In short, this is a feast for the ear. This is the kind of production one wants to hear time and again, and as the programme includes pieces from operas which are completely unknown, sometimes by composers only a few may have heard of, this production also makes curious about what French music of the 18th century may have in store that has not been revived so far.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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