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"Concert chez la Reine"

Les Ombres
Dir: Margaud Blanchard, Sylvain Sartre

rec: [no date, no place]
Editions Ambronay - AMY301 (© 2010) (68'00")

François COLIN DE BLAMONT (1690-1760): Circé, cantate avec simphoniea; Les Festes grecques et romaines, ballet-héroïque: instrumental suite; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): Concert instrumental sous le titre d'Apothéose composé à la mémoire immortelle de l'incomparable Monsieur de Lullyb

Mélodie Ruvio, mezzosopranoab; Sarah van Cornewal, Sylvain Sartre, transverse flute; Katharina Heutjer, Jérôme Van Waerbeke, violin; Margaux Blanchard, viola da gamba; Mélanie Flahaut, bassoon; Vincent Flückiger, theorbo; Nadja Lesaulnier, harpsichord; Manuel Weber, reciterb

The court in France at the 17th and early 18th centuries buzzed with musical activities of all kinds: opera, chamber music, sacred music. In 1725 Louis XV married Marie Leszczynska, the daughter of King Stanislaw Leszczynski of Poland. She immediately enjoyed the pleasures of Versailles. Although she wasn't an accomplished musician herself, she was a great lover and champion of music. She founded the Concerts de la Reine, performed in the Salon de la Paix about twice a week. The organisation was the responsibility of André Cardinal Destouches and François Colin de Blamont, who shared the function of Surintendant de la Musique de la Chambre du Roi, exercising their duties for six months a year each. At first Louis XV also attended these concerts but after a while he mostly avoided them.

The concerts had mostly the same kind of programme and included some acts from an opera, a cantata and some instrumental music. This disc presents music which could have been performed at these concerts, without being a reconstruction of any kind. It is not quite clear in which year the Concerts de la Reine started. According to Benoît Dratwicki, in his liner-notes, they began the year Marie arrived in Versailles, 1725, but in the article on Marie in New Grove the year 1735 is mentioned. That is not without importance, because the programme starts with one of François Couperin's best-known works, the Concert instrumental sous le titre d'Apothéose composé à la mémoire immortelle de l'incomparable Monsieur de Lully which was written in 1725. If the concerts were taking place from 1735 onwards, one may question whether Couperin's work was still played. But apart from that the choice of this particular piece is a bit disappointing as it has been recorded so often. It would have been preferable to take some lesser-known pieces instead.

Couperin's Apothéose isn't just a tribute to Jean-Baptiste Lully, it is also an expression of his aesthetical programme: the marriage of the French and Italian styles. His preference in this regard was shared by many composers in the first half of the 18th century. The chamber cantata was a direct result of the growing interest in the Italian style. Many cantatas were written for performances at court and in the salons of the bourgeoisie. François Colin de Blamont is one of the exponents of this genre. He received his first music lessons from his father, Nicolas de Colin, who was ordinaire de la musique du roi. We hear one of his earliest cantatas, Circé, which was the reason Michel-Richard de Lalande accepted him as his pupil. In 1726 Colin de Blamont succeeded him as maître de musique de la chambre. The cantata is written on a text by Jean-Baptiste Rousseau which is read before the cantata. Blamont's Circé is quite dramatic, in particular in the second and third recitative, and here the influence of the Italian style comes to the fore. There are three versions of this cantata, and the third - which has remained unpublished - is performed here. The liner-notes don't make it quite clear what the differences are. The performance ends with two versions of an aria - called A and B - , with different texts. But what exactly these are - and from which version - remains unclear.

Colin de Blamont was also quite successful with compositions for the stage. Les Festes grecques et romaines dates from 1723 and was the first specimen of a new genre, the ballet-héroïque. It is a type of opéra-ballet, with mainly characters from antique mythology. The term would later also be used by Jean-Philippe Rameau, for instance for his Les Indes Galantes. We get here six instrumental pieces from this ballet-héroïque, beginning with the overture and ending with a chaconne.

This instrumental suite is given an excellent and lively performance. Couperin's Apothéose is also played well, but I would have liked more differentiation between the good and the bad notes and a more breathing style of playing. The texts are read in historical pronunciation. Therefore it is rather odd that the cantata is sung in modern pronunciation. The dramatic aspect of Circé comes off well, but the consistent vibrato of Mélodie Ruvio is damaging and not in line with the historical performance practice.

This disc is interesting in that it sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of musical life in Versailles, but it could have been more interesting with a different choice of music. In addition the performances are inconsistent which makes it hard to recommend this disc without reservation. The production also leaves something to be desired: I already referred to the lack of information regarding Colin de Blamont's cantata. Moreover the place and date of the recording are not given. And why are seven minutes of silence added to the last track?

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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