Saturday, August 10, 2013

Les Délices: Myths & Allegories
Les Délices, 2012.  Les Délices:

This recording delights the ear with historically informed style, instruments that beautifully blend and contrast, and musicians with years of experience playing together.  Les Délices is dedicated to research and performance of French Baroque music from the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV.  Here the ensemble offers rarely-heard works by early 18th-century Paris and Versailles composers, several in arrangements created by the group (as was standard Baroque practice).  The instruments are reproductions of historic models with appropriate tuning and temperament.  
The works included on Myths & Allegories are dance suites and cantatas with themes drawn from Homer’s epic about Ulysses and his long journey home to the faithful Penelope.   These include “Ulysse”  and “La Fidelle” by Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747); “Les Sirènes” by Thomas-Louis Bourgeois (1676-1750); “Cinquième Suite ‘La Guerre’” by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737); and “Le Sommeil d’Ulisse” by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729).  Debra Nagy has written extensive notes explaining how each reflects different aspects of the Ulysses saga.  These range from Montéclair’s programmatic instrumental suite depicting moods of battle, to Ulysses’ escape from the wrath of Neptune through magical sleep in the cantata by de la Guerre—one of the rare female composers of earlier eras to be remembered.
All the musicians on this disc have excellent credentials and the instrumentalists play together with astounding unanimity of tempo, rhythm, and pitch.  They improvise and elaborate with assurance as the texture constantly varies from one to five voices, producing a web of color.  The always-elegant violin playing of Julie Andrijeski is memorable here but all play at the highest level.
Alas, putting the human voice into such a happy mix is often problematic.  To this reviewer’s ear the vocalist has rather over-generous vibrato and less than the fairy nimbleness required of this repertoire.  One wishes that the final two tracks of the recording were reversed, ending with not a vocal air but with a chaconne—a much longer chaconne—as these calm dreamy dances are arguably the most magnificent remnants of the Sun King’s reign.
This recording is highly recommended.
Personnel:  Debra Nagy (baroque oboe & recorder), Julie Andrijeski (violin), Emily Walhout (viola da gamba), Michael Sponseller (harpsichord), Clara Rottsolk (soprano).
Recorded in Harkness Chapel, Case Western Reserve University, March 2012.

Tina Spencer Dreisbach

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