musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Le triomphe de l'amour"

Sandrine Piau, soprano
Les Paladins
Dir: Jérôme Corréas

rec: Oct 2011, Royaumont, Abbaye
Naïve - OP 30532 (© 2011) (60'57")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

André CAMPRA (1660-1744): Idoménée, 1712 (Espoir des malheureux); Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704) David et Jonathas, 1688 (H 490) (A-t-on jamais souffert); Charles-Simon FAVART (1710-1792): Pauvre nise! (from pasticcio La bohémienne, 1755); André-Ernest-Modeste GRÉTRY (1741-1813): L'amant jaloux, 1778 (Je romps la chaîne qui m'engage); Le tableau parlant, 1769 (overture); Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Acis et Galatée, 1686 (LWV 73) (Enfin, j'ai dissipé la crainte); Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Anacréon, 1757 (L'amour est le dieu de la paix); Les Indes Galantes, 1735 (Viens, hymen); Les fêtes de Ramire, 1745 (sarabande, 2 gavottes, 2 tambourins); Les Paladins, 1757 (Je vole, amour); François REBEL (1701-1775)/François FRANCOEUR (1698-1787): Scanderberg, 1735 (overture; Tout est prêt); Antonio SACCHINI (1730-1786): Renaud, 1783 (Que l'éclat de la victoire se répande sur vous jours)

For some time Sandrine Piau and Jérôme Corréas, who knew each other from their years as students, had the idea of exploring the evolution of French music of the 17th and 18th centuries. This has resulted in the present disc which explores the way various composers depicted love and its trials and tribulations in opera. The music which they have selected spans a period of about 100 years. It not only demonstrates the very different ways in which the subject was treated but also the stylistic changes within that period. At the one end of the spectrum we find Lully and Charpentier, representatives of the classical French opera - albeit quite different from each other - whereas at the other we hear music by Grétry and Sacchini which points towards the classical style.

The latter were not from France: Grétry was born in Liège, and Sacchini in Florence, but both enjoyed their main successes in the field of opera in France. The same goes for Jean-Baptiste Lully, who was also born in Florence and moved to Paris at the age of 13 in order to become the Italian tutor to a cousin of Louis XIV. He developed into the leading figure in French musical life, and can be seen as the founder and defender of French opera. He was keen to keep French music free from foreign influences, especially from his native Italy. Acis et Galatée is a pastorale from which a scene is taken in which Galatea expresses her conflicting feelings. She does so in the restrained manner which is characteristic of Lully's operatic style. His contemporary Charpentier suffered a great deal from Lully's dominance. He was probably the greater dramatic talent but that was not fully appreciated, in particular because of his leanings towards the Italian style. 'A-t-on jamais souffert' from his oratorio David et Jonathas is an impressive example of his talent for expressing human emotions. In this aria Jonathan is torn between his friendship with David and his love for his father. Charpentier contrasts these two emotions by opposing four-part to trio texture in the orchestra.

André Campra was also strongly influenced by the Italian style, and that clearly comes to the fore in his opera Idoménée. It was written in a time when Italian music was widely embraced by composers and audiences. The scene in which Ilione expresses her feelings for Idamantes may be restrained, as Catherine Massip writes in her liner-notes, but there are some strong outbursts of emotions ("arrête, cher amant") which have a quite dramatic effect. During the 18th century composers started to include rage arias like those we find in the Italian opera seria. That is the case, for instance, in Scanderberg by François Rebel and François Francoeur who usually worked together in the composition of music for the theatre. We hear a recitative and an aria; the latter begins with the words: "Fury, Love, assist my impatience". The overture is also played, and it is a bit odd that it is separated from the recitative and aria by the aria from Campra's Idoménée.

Rameau can't be absent in a recital like this as he played a crucial role in the development of opera in France. The aria of Cupid from Anacréon contains coloraturas on "règne" (Reign, reign with me, Bacchus). The same is true for the aria 'Je vole, Amour' from Les Paladins: "I fly, Love, where you call me". Here the orchestra - and in particular the flutes - are used to illustrate the text. This is a feature of Rameau's operas: the orchestral score is much more closely linked to the plot than in earlier operas. It is one of the reasons the instrumental movements from his operas are so frequently played: they are not just brilliantly orchestrated but also theatrical in character. That makes it understandable that some pieces from Les fêtes de Ramire - a ballet in one act which previously had been part of La princesse de Navarre - have been included. One of Rameau's most popular theatrical works is Les Indes Galantes, a piece which incorporates some quite dramatic events. It also includes 'Viens, hymen', an aria of great subtlety which ends this disc.

With Grétry and Sacchini we are close to opera of the classical era. The aria 'Je romps la chaîne qui m'engage' from Grétry's L'amant jaloux is telling in that the scoring includes horns which also appear in the overture to Le tableau parlant. Here the score includes indications for crescendi and diminuendi. In the aria Grétry cleverly uses the dacapo structure to express the conflicting emotions of the protagonist. We find here also the staccato which is a feature of many operas in the late 18th century. It appears again in 'Que l'éclat de la victoire' from Sacchini's Renaud, a truly heroic aria: "May the splendour of victory crown your days, and may you with glorious triumphs adorn the cupid's chariot". The orchestral scoring reflects the content, with a prominent role for the horns. Quite different is 'Pauvre nise!', an aria which Charles-Simon Favart contributed to the pasticcio La Bohémienne (1755). Favart was one of the leading composers of comic operas, a genre which came into existence in France around the middle of the 18th century.

Sandrine Piau is one of today's most celebrated singers in the world of early music, although her repertoire is not confined to the 17th and 18th centuries. Here again she proves that she has the ideal voice for this kind of music. The dramatic arias come off brilliantly, and she has all it takes to bring out the emotions of the characters. But she also masters the art of subtle expression of sadness and despair. If I single out the arias by Charpentier and Campra as highlights, I am not saying that the other items are less convincing. Far from it: this is a superior disc which displays French opera in full glory. The orchestra contributes considerably to its strong impact.

For lovers of French opera this disc is indispensable. But anyone who likes superior singing will greatly enjoy it. I am sure that the many fans of Sandrine Piau have already purchased it.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Les Paladins

CD Reviews