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Les Noces Royales de Louis XIV
Ana Quintans (soprano), Victoire Bunel (mezzo), David Tricou (haut-contre), Serge Goubioud (tenor), Virgile Ancely (baritone)
Compagnie de la Tempête, Le Poème Harmonique/Vincent Dumestre
rec. live, 11-14 November 2021, Royal Chapel of the Château de Versailles, France
Texts and translations (English, French and German) included.

“The wedding of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Austria was the event of the century!” trumpets the website material for this disc. The King’s various wars might have been even more important events, but as royal weddings go, the one on 9 June 1660 was certainly a big one, not least politically, which for 17th century royals usually meant dynastically. Maria Theresa was the Infanta of Spain, so the marriage brought peace to monarchies long opposed.

Never mind the title and the recording location. The knot was not actually tied in Versailles. The 21-year old King first went on a year’s royal progress around France to see his new kingdom, and the Infanta of Spain by tradition could not leave her country until she was married. So the borderland of the Basque country was the venue and the celebrations – of marriage and a peace treaty – were held in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, before the new couple progressed through France to Versailles, where yet more celebrations were held.

Music accompanied the royal couple along the way as well. Couperin and Lully tagged along at times, and there was Lully’s now mostly lost Ballet de Toulouse written for one of the stages en route. Vincent Dumestre and Le Poème Harmonique have assembled here just over an hour’s programme selected from across these extended festivities; the exact works used at any point are often uncertain. Matthieu Franchin’s excellent booklet says that the disc “offers […] a selection of music from among all those that may have accompanied, directly or indirectly, the festivities taking place within the vicinity of this wedding”.

The pieces are arranged in five sections to reflect the ceremonial sequence: Aux portes du temple, Entrée des délégations, Célébration de la paix, Mariage and Réjouissance et ballet des nations. The programme opens with a regal sound of some splendour with trumpets and drums of Lully’s fanfare “Sonneries pour les trompettes du Roi”, and these instruments feature quite often in later parts. Couperin’s austere organ prelude follows, to remind us we are in an ecclesiastical building. Lully’s ballet music offers dances suitable for Spaniards and then Basques, the former with guitars and castanets. Veillot’s “O filii e filiae” launches the celebration of the peace with simple and attractive monophony, first with women’s voices solo and choral, with the men joining later.

Lully’s Jubilate Deo sequence, also known as his “Motet de la Paix”, is one of two larger works on the disc included in their entirety. This excellent motet is known to have been much admired by the King, who commanded several performances. It opens with a fine five-part instrumental prelude (or “symphony”), and the choral writing is at times richer still. The choir Compagnie de la Tempête sound thoroughly idiomatic, as do the vocal soloists, none of whose names I knew but who all have attractive voices and the right style and scale for the era.

Two organ pieces by Nivers and a Sinfonia by Rossi lead the sequence for the Marriage itself, which is dominated by the other extended work on the disc, Cavalli’s Magnificat. Every time I hear an unfamiliar piece by the great Venetian, he sounds in the same league as Monteverdi, and so it is here. There is an impressive range of music within the work, plenty of praise and joy of course, but also a brief but searching Et misericordia (“His mercy continues from generation to generation”). The livelier sections are sung and played with impressive agility.

The final Réjouissance (rejoicing) brings secular song and opera, ending with a contribution from the Spanish side. Hidalgo’s opera was commissioned to celebrate the peace and marriage, and was the first Spanish opera, or possibly the first that survived. It makes a light-hearted and jolly close, of the sort not only royal weddings require. We are not quite eavesdropping on history, as this exact sequence of pieces is acknowledged as speculative. But in its spirit of intelligent and informed reconstruction, it is to be celebrated.

The disc has added to my collection no fewer than six names I had not known, and the music is worth hearing. Perhaps it is not quite, in the end, a sequence greater than the sum of its parts, so that one might listen selectively on subsequent playings of the disc. But the standards of execution under Vincent Dumestre’s direction are very good, justifying the high reputation of Le Poème Harmonique, whose earlier discs have won much praise. The booklet, on which I have drawn much here, is very informative, as it must be for this programme. The sound is atmospheric, doubtless reflecting the acoustic of the Royal Chapel of the Château de Versailles, and captures the tang of the colourful old instruments.

Roy Westbrook
1 Lully - Sonneries pour les trompettes du Roi [2:07]
2 Louis Couperin - Prélude [2:57]
3 Lully - Entrée pour la Maison de France [1:36]
4 Lully - Les Espagnols [1:25]
5 Lully - Les Basques [2:18]
6 Jean Veillot - O filii e filiae [5:59]
7 Lully - Jubilate Deo [3:22]
8 Lully - Qui posuit fines nostra [2:48]
9 Lully - Lux orta est [2:29]
10 Lully - Taliter non fecit [3:28]
11 Lully - Jubilate [2:34]
12 Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers (c.1632-1714) - Plein jeu du troisième ton [1:00]
13 Nivers - Récit de cromorne du troisième ton [1:36]
14 Salomone Rossi (1570-1630) - Sinfonia grave [1:40]
15-25 Cavalli - Magnificat [15:16]
26 Cavalli Xerxes - Lasciatemi morire [5:25]
27 André de Rosiers (active 1634-1672) - Après une si longue guerre [1:57]
28 Nicolas Métru (c.1605-c.1630) - Ô France [2:46]
29 Juan Hidalgo (1614-85) - Dos zagalas venian [4:22]

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