musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Jean Philippe Rameau and his time

[I] "A French Baroque Diva - Arias for Marie Fel"
Carolyn Sampson, soprano
Ex Cathedra
Dir: Jeffrey Skidmore
rec: June 3 - 5, 2013, London, All Hallows, Gospel Oak
Hyperion - CDA68035 (© 2014) (72'56")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E

Joseph Hector FIOCCO (1703-1741): Laudate pueri, motet (Laudate pueri; A solis ortu; Alleluia); Louis LACOSTE (c1675-c1750): Philomèle (1705) (Ah! quand reviendront nos beaux jours?; Michel-Richard DE LALANDE (1657-1726): Cantate Domino, grand motet (S 72) (Viderunt omnes termini terrae); Exsurgat Deus, grand motet (S 71) (Regnae terrae); Te Deum laudamus, grand motet (S 32) (sinfonie; Tu rex gloriae; Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem); Jean-Joseph Cassanéa DE MONDONVILLE (1711-1772): Daphnis et Alcimadure (1754) (Gasouillats auzeléts); Venite, exsultemus, grand motet (Venite, adoremus; Hodie si vocem); Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Castor et Pollux (1737/1754) (Un tendre intérêt vous appelle - Tristes apprêts); Les surprises de l'Amour: La lyre enchantée (Accordez vos sons et vos pas; gavotte. Lyre enchanteresse; Écoutons - D'un doux frémissement; Vole, Amour, prête-moi tes armes; contredanse); Platée (1745) (Amour, lance tes traits); Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU (1712-1778): Salve Regina, motet

[II] "Le Jardin de Monsieur Rameau"
Daniela Skorka, sopranoa; Emilie Renard, mezzo-sopranob; Benedetta Mazzucato, contraltoc; Zachary Wilder, tenord; Victor Sicard, baritonee; Cyril Costanzo, bassf
Les Arts Florissants
Dir: William Christie
rec: March 29 - 31, 2013, Paris, Salle Colonne
Les Arts Florissants - AF.002 (© 2014) (81'03")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

André CAMPRA (1660-1744): L'Europe galante (1697) (air instrumental; Quoi! Pour l'objet de votre ardeur, airde; Paisibles lieux, airb; rondeau; Que vois-je, quel spectacle, récitb; Aimez, belle Bergère, choeurabdef; Que je sache du moins, récitb; Voyez à vos genoux, airbe; Lorsque Doris me parut belle, aire; Que n'adressez-vous mieux, airb; Que funeste coup, airc); Antoine DAUVERGNE (1713-1797): Hercule mourant (1761) (Quelle voix suspend mes alarmes, aira); La Vénitienne (1768) (prélude; Pour braver les périls; Ciel, il me laisse, air; Livons-nous au sommeil, air)f; Christoph Willibald VON GLUCK (1714-1787): L'Ivrogne corrigé (1760) (Maudit ivrogne, terzettoadf; Il est mort, choeuracde; Rendez mon époux à la vie, terzettoacd; Que de plaisirs l'Amour nous donne, quatuorabcdef); Nicolas Racot DE GRANDVAL (1676-1753): Rien du tout, cantatab; Michel Pignolet DE MONTÉCLAIR (1667-1737): Jephté (1732) (ouverture; rigaudon; Riez sans cesse, air & choeurac; menuet; Dans ces beaux lieux, air & choeurabc; symphonie; De quels nouveaux concerts, trio & choeurabf; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Ah! loin de rire, canon; Dardanus (1739) (Hâtons-nous, courons à la gloire, arietted; prélude; Voici les tristes lieux, récite; Monstre affreux, aire; Mais un nouvel éclat, aire; Des biens que Vénus nous dispense, duocd); Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) (Quels doux concerts, airc); Les Fêtes d'Hébé (1739) (Revenez, tendre amant, airf & choeur; Je vous revois, duocd; Sans cesse les oiseaux font retentira; Fuis, porte ailleurs tes fureurs, ariettea); Les Indes galantes (1736) (Tendre Amour, quatuor)abdf; Réveillez-vous, dormeur, canon

Some singers of the baroque era stir the imagination of modern performers and audiences, especially castratos, such as Senesino, Farinelli and Caffarelli. Another famous singer was the mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni, the wife of the German composer Johann Adolf Hasse. The name of Marie Fel probably doesn't immediately ring a bell. However, she was very famous in her time and much admired by composers and music-lovers alike. Jeffrey Skidmore put together a programme of pieces which she sang and which give some idea of her skills. It is also interesting in that it documents the stylistic changes during the 18th century and sheds some light on aspects of performance practice.

That comes already to the fore in Ms Fel's biography. She was born in Bordeaux in 1713 as the daughter of an organist. At the age of 21 she took her first role, in Philomèle by Louis Lacoste. Soon after her debut she became a pupil of Christina Van Loo, daughter of the violinist Giovanni Battista Somis, teacher of many violinists, including Jean-Marie Leclair. This way she became acquainted with the Italian style. The composer Louis-Claude Daquin stated that she "sings Italian and Provençal like Mlle Faustine when she was in her prime", referring to the above-mentioned Faustina Bordoni. Her skills in the Italian style came to the fore in her performances of music by foreign composers at the Concert Spirituel. The programme includes parts from Laudate pueri by the Joseph Hector Fiocco, son of the Italian composer Pietro Antonio Fiocco. Interestingly the original set of performing parts has survived, and one of them includes Ms Fel's own ornamentation markings which have been taken into account here.

It was not only in foreign music that she could demonstrate her capabilities in the Italian style. French composers increasingly included elements of the latter in their own works, for instance Jean-Philippe Rameau. That is especially demonstrated in the ariette Amour, lance tes traits from Platée. Rameau was one of her contemporaries who admired Ms Fel's singing. For the 1757 revival of his ballet opera Les Surprises de l'Amour he created the role of Parthénope specially for her. Another admirer was Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Marie Fel sang the principal female role in his opera Le devin du village, and afterwards Rousseau wrote a setting of the Salve Regina for her to be performed at the Concert Spirituel.

She often made appearances in this concert series, for instance in performances of grands motets by composers such as Michel-Richard de Lalande and Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville. The former's Cantate Domino was the piece with which Marie Fel said farewell to the stage. The aria Viderunt omnes termini terrae is a virtuosic piece in which the soprano dialogues with the oboe and the bassoon. From a performance practice perspective her frequent interpretations of grands motets are interesting. One is inclined to think that sacred music was performed with male voices alone, including trebles in the upper parts. Generally speaking that is certainly the case if performances in church are concerned, but the grands motets and other sacred works were also performed in a secular setting. Here the solo parts were likely mostly sung by female singers whereas the upper parts in the tutti were usually sung by boys as mixed choirs were rather rare at the time.

Carolyn Sampson is certainly a very good singer and she seems to have the right feeling for this repertoire. It is a shame that her performances of the extracts from operas are spoiled by a wide and incessant vibrato. In the sacred pieces she shows much more restraint in this department, and as a result these performances are far better. All in all, this is a rather mixed baggage. The choice of repertoire is very interesting, especially the extracts from operas by Lacoste and Mondonville, the latter in Occitan, the language of the composer's native Languedoc. The performances don't always live up to the expectations.

Mastery of the French style is not that easy for (young) singers. In an interview in the booklet of the production 'Le Jardin de Monsieur Rameau' William Christie explains: "[The] technique taught in the majority of music schools - inevitably non-specialized and centered around standard repertoire - does not equip them to give full expression to the eloquence so particular to this music. It is inextricably linked to the language and requires a study and assimilation of style based on a sound musicological foundation. If we are not aware of the primordial importance of the eloquence of the language, this music loses its power to communicate and its effectiveness." This is the main reason that in 2002 Christie started a biennial academy for young singers with the specific purpose to give them more insight in the requirements of French music of the late 17th and the 18th centuries. This results in a series of public performances of repertoire from this period.

The 2013 academy concentrated on Rameau in the context of his time. This explains that we hear music by André Campra whose music for the theatre was a strong inspiration for Rameau. Montéclair's Jephté was performed shortly before Rameau began working at Hippolyte et Aricie. Dauvergne was probably a pupil of Rameau and Gluck is included as he was considered the opposite of Rameau. The two composers became the subject of a quarrel between Gluckistes and Ramistes. The programme concentrates on extracts from operas; the exception is the cantata Rien du tout by Nicolas Racot de Grandval which pokes fun at clichés of music theatre.

The singers on this disc are no inexperienced beginners. Most of them have already started a career and even participated in recordings. That may partly explain that these performances are very good. Obviously this production doesn't document where the singers were when the academy started. It is notable that they not only shine in their solos but also succeed in ensemble. Teamwork is one of the hallmarks of the academy, and singing harmoniously in ensemble is not something which comes natural to every artist. Even so, the two canons by Rameau are not among the most convincing parts of this disc, especially because of a lack of blending of the voices.

This disc is interesting not only because of the performances but also because of the repertoire. Especially the canons by Rameau, the extracts from operas by Dauvergne and from Gluck's L'Ivrogne corrigé and the cantata by Grandval. The importance of a project like this can hardly be overstated.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Daniela Mazzucato
Emilie Renard
Carolyn Sampson
Victor Sicard
Daniela Skorka
Zachary Wilder
Ex Cathedra
Les Arts Florissants

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