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26 June, 2013

Jean-Baptiste Lully
Recommended Recordings



Atys
(Jean-Francois Gardeil, Guillemette Laurens, et al; Les Arts Florissants; William Christie, conductor)
Jean-Baptiste Lully has long been known as the father of French opera; this 1987 recording was the first to suggest his works are fit for something more than the library shelf. Though the 1676 Atys lacks the depth of texture and characterization (as well as the sheer weirdness) found in Rameau, the opera is like a catalog of French Baroque recitative and aria techniques in this Dangerous Liaisons-style story of love and jealousy amid royals and gods. Ironically, when the title character goes to sleep in act 3, the music truly wakes up in an imaginative, strikingly mellifluous evocation of abstract gods such as Morpheus and Phantasmus. William Christie's direction isn't quite as crisp and polished as later recordings, but his sense of style and ability to find passion behind the operatic formality is rock solid, with fine vocal contributions by Guy de Mey (Atys), Agnes Mellon (Sangaride), and Guillemette Laurens (Cybele). (review by David Patrick Stearns)

Symphonies, Ouvertures & Airs a jouer
(Concert des Nations; Jordi Savall, conductor)
What is it that makes French baroque music so unmistakable? You have only to listen to a minute or two of this disc to recognize its nationality, even if guessing the composer is more difficult. Perhaps it's the instrumental color, as many-hued as the finest embroidered cloth; perhaps it's the juxtaposition of the most stately overtures--full of brass flourishes and dignified pomp--with the liveliest dance movements. Indeed, so French is this music in style that it's of little consequence that Lully was actually Italian-born (though French-trained). These three suites were all composed for the court of Louis XIV, a great patron of the arts and an enthusiastic dancer. Le divertissement royal is as gilded and magnificently over-the-top as the Versailles festivities it was designed to celebrate (just sample the magnificent trumpets in track 11), while Le bourgeois gentilhomme was Lully's most spectacular collaboration with Molière in a form that combined music and drama (sample the Turkish ritual in track 4 or track 8, a ceremonial and gracious end to the suite). The suite from the opera Alceste makes a fittingly rich finale, ranging wide from the dramatic possibilities of "Echos" (track 23) to the overcast "La pompe funèbre." The playing by Jordi Savall and his band is terrific: vivid, perfectly drilled, and endlessly responsive to the theatrical possibilities of this effervescent music--brought to the fore by the excellent recording. (review by Harriet Smith)

Trios pour le Coucher du Roy
(Trio Tanis)


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