> The Sultan and the Phoenix [GH]: Classical Reviews- June 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Chamber and Keyboard music by: Louis COUPERIN (1626-61), Michel CORRETTE (1707-95), François COUPERIN ((1668-1733), Pierre DUMAGE (1674-1751), Armand-Louis COUPERIN (1727-1789), Jacques DUPHLY (1715-89), Louis-Antoine DORNEL (1680-1756), and Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Charivari Agréable
Recorded in St. Andrews Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire December 2000
SIGNUM CD 032 [69.12]
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This disc which has given me such pleasure and delight. It consists of music of the French Baroque dating from a period c.1660 to c.1760.

Charivari Agréable, founded in 1993, are making their name in the performance of early music with the specific idea of arranging works for instruments even when they may not have been intended for anything other than the keyboard. A good example of their work can be heard in ‘The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book’ (Signum 009) recorded at the same venue in February 1998. They play on a combination of Treble viols, Quinton Viols and Bass viols, a ten-course lute, a French theorbo, a harpsichord and a chamber organ. The group consists of Susanne Heinrich, Sarah Grosser, Susanna Pell, Reiko Ichise, Asako Morikawa, and Lynda Sayce and Kah-Ming Ng. They are pictured in the booklet.

There is a useful essay about the composers and the music by Lucy Robinson and a useful note on the performance by Kah-Ming Ng who has also been responsible, as has Susanne Heinrich, for arranging some of the music. Most of the instruments are modern copies or are adapted from originals. Charivari Agréable means a ‘pleasant tumult’ which seems most appropriate. It seems to me that they have the happy distinction of successfully combining intellect with passion, especially in this French repertoire.

St. Andrew’s Toddington is a fine, large church where Signum have recorded before. It is a large 19th Century structure designed by G.E. Street set in idyllic countryside. It is next to Lord Sudeley’s fantastic Gothic revival house and has an excellent acoustic.

The group take some works and play them as they were intended, for instance Corrette’s three movement ‘Le Phoenix’ Concerto in D major scored unusually for 4 bass viols and continuo. We also have a harpsichord solo ‘La Cheron’ by the last great Couperin, Armand-Louis. The 'Sultan' part of the CD title, incidentally, refers to a work of that name by François Couperin. It is a multi-movement six-part work inspired by Corelli or Legrenzi. It is in the Italian style, which Couperin was able to ape successfully in his various attempts to unify Corelli. Both Couperin and Lully admired Corelli. Couperin revered Lully.

Many of the other pieces have been arranged for instrumental combinations of various types. If you know Rameau’s wonderful ‘Pièces de Clavecin en concerts’ of 1741 you will know that the twenty or so pieces in the five suites all started in another form; mostly in the keyboard collections of 1714 and 1728. Rameau arranged them for harpsichord, and two other instruments - normally cello (or gamba) and violin/ flute. This is the principle adopted here by Ng and Heinrich. So, Duphly’s ‘La Madin’ from his collection ‘Livre de pièces Clavecin’ is heard here on a Quinton viol, a treble viol and harpsichord.

Now this is all very well when adding layers to keyboard works but what if you are thinning out from already composed orchestral ones. For the last item in their programme ‘Charivari Agréable’ play Marais's magnificent Chaconne which comes at the end of his opera ‘Alcione’ (1706). To hear this in its original orchestral dress you could perhaps search out Jordi Savall’s recording of four suites from the opera of dances and airs (Astrée Auvidis E8525) and superb it is too. Here we have it arranged for just six players. The effect is more domestic and intimate but I feel ultimately unsuccessful with its all too obvious solo lines seemingly created with a view to giving each player a chance to shine.

Despite this single reservation, if you enjoy baroque music or indeed any early music, this disc is worth investigating. The texts are translated into French and German and the presentation is of a very satisfactory calibre.

Gary Higginson

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