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François FRANCOEUR (1698-1787)
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Suites de Simphonies
Simphonies pour le festin royal de monseigneur le comte d'Artois (1773) [34.15]
Suite de divertissement des Indes Galantes (1735) [21.18]
Ensemble Stradivaria, Daniel Cuiller.
Rec: June, 2000.
CYPRÈS CYP1626 [55.33]

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This recording presents two 'simphonies' by composers of the late French baroque period. The 18th century in France was a time of great musical variety, although less so than in the 17th century. Music still had its royal function - most such music was written for the court, or for operas and ballets performed both at the court and in the city.

The overture of the Francoeur work sounds very much like that of an opera, in its successive presentation of several themes. It also has that delightful, grandiose sound of those baroque works written for celebrations - it is similar in tone to some of Purcell's odes, or Haendel's Water Music.

Unfortunately, the notes accompanying this recording are unclear - it seems that this 'Simphonie' is a reconstruction of various movements composed for the occasion. They also mention that Francoeur often 'mixed in' the works of others; so it is not even clear whether all of the movements attributed here to Francoeur were indeed written by him.

These works, written for the Comte d'Artois, the future Charles X, are typical of the music of that period - the orchestrations feature a wide variety of instruments, such as flutes, oboes, bassoons and are all used to their maximum effect to provide a sonorous landscape as varied as the gardens of Versailles. The adjective used to qualify some of the movements give an indication of the spirit behind the music - they are gracious, light, gay and sweet.

The Rameau works included on this recording are excerpts from Les Indes Galantes, the incredibly successful ballet that was performed almost continually from 1735 to 1780, long after Rameau's death. These pieces are perhaps the hallmark of Rameau's orchestral style - catchy melodies, simple yet rich orchestration, and a wide variety of tempi and rhythm.

These works are performed efficiently and energetically, but one might find the strings to be a bit heavy, giving them, at times, a more 19th century sound, with many strings playing in unison. The Suite closes with Rameau's famous rondeau, one of the most memorable melodies of the period. This rapid dance movement has a simple, repeating melody that has listeners tapping their feet and nodding their heads in time.

In any case, this is late French baroque music in its most characteristic - affected, grandiose, dainty, yet with such verve and energy, and such delightful melodies. If listeners close their eyes, they can be transported back to that time when all was a stage and the players gravitated around the king and his court. One can only think that it is best that these two composers did not live until 1789.

A delightful recording of some 'light' music from 18th century France. The recording captures perfectly the atmosphere of grace and joy this music was written to express.

Kirk McElhearn

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