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Les Grandes Eaux Musicales De Versailles
Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
Overture: Roland [3:48]
Jean-Philippe RameaU (1683-1764)
Overture: Naïs [3:50]
Overture: Zaïs [5:16]
Overture: Acante et Céphise, ou La Sympathie [5:08]
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Persée (1682)
Marche pour les suivants de la Fortune [1:24]
Premier Air des violons et Second Air des hautbois [1:33]
Premier Air des Jeux Junoniens [1:14]
Second Air des Jeux Junoniens [0:49]
Troisième Air des Jeux Junoniens [0:33]
Entrée des Nymphes guerrières [0:52]
Entrée des Divinitez infernales [1:03]
Entrée des Fantosmes [1:29]
Gigue [1:04]
Air de l’Éthiopien «Nostre espoir alloit faire…» [2:12]
Passacaille [2:33]
Air final [3:31]
Henry Desmarest (1661-1741)
Vénus et Adonis (1697)
Overture [2:04]
Premier Passe-pied [0:37]
Second Passe-pied pour les hautbois [0:57]
Premier Air pour la suite de Bellone [1:23]
Deuxième Air pour la suite de Bellone [0:53]
Passacaille [4:47]
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Air des deux insulaires, «Dans nos climats sans chagrin on soupire» [4:44]
Chaconne [11:44]
Air de Roland, «Je suis trahi ! Ciel !» [3:33]
Air de Logistille, «Par le secours d’une douce harmonie» [4:34]
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Bauci e Filemone: Tempesta con Fulmini
(1769) [1:00]
Nicola Porpora (1686-1768)
Polifemo: «Alto giove» [4:38]
Marie-Hélène Essade; Delphine Gillot; Salomé Haller ; Ditte Andersen; Ewa Mallas-Godlewska (sopranos); Marie Lenormand (mezzo); Cyril Auvity ; Anders J Dahlin ; Derek Lee Ragin (counter-tenors); Emiliano Gonzalez-Toro; Magnus Staveland (tenor); Bruno Rostand; Evgueniy Alexiev (bass); Chœur de l’Opéra de Lausanne; Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
rec. 1994-2007. Venues not specified. DDD.
Naïve AMBROISIE AM167 [75:00] 


Experience Classicsonline

The concept behind this recording is to recreate the musical equivalent of a tour of the gardens of
Versailles with their magnificent fountains. Insofar as any two art forms can be said to be analogous, the music created for Louis XIV and his court does offer an aural parallel to the visual splendours of the gardens. Whilst the real thing would be ‘an ephemeral masterpiece’, as the subtitle of this CD reminds us, the recording preserves the aural aspect for repeated playing. 

A recreation of the smells of the court of the Sun King would be another matter – with totally inadequate facilities, the courtiers had to relieve themselves in the corridors of the palace. Nor am I sure that the concept of walking through the gardens with piped muzack, however discrete and however appropriate, is totally appealing. 

If some of the contents of this CD seem familiar, the small print on the back of the packaging will explain why – tracks 2-4, the three Rameau Overtures, are taken from a 1997 Decca recording, which remains available at mid price (475 9107 or 476 2596), and the excerpts from several of the operas are taken from various highly regarded Naïve and Ambroisie recordings advertised in the booklet, some of them very recent. Such re-jigging is not unusual, but it is annoying if, for example, like me, you are duplicating the Rameau overtures, amounting to 20% of the new CD. Those who already have the 2-CD Naïve set of Lully’s Persée, fine though these performances are, have duplicated 12 of the 28 tracks. 

The very brief Gluck extract (one minute – was it worth it?) comes from a 2CD set, AM9995, which GPu recommended – see review. Composed a century after the Lully, Rameau and Desmarest items, neither this Gluck extract nor the final item, from Porpora’s Polifemo, has any connection with Versailles: both were composed for festivities at Parma. 

All the items on this CD are very short – the chaconne from Roland lasts nearly 12 minutes, otherwise there’s nothing much longer than 5 minutes – but that is the nature of this music. Teachers justifiably complain that TV has reduced the attention span of modern children, but the Sun King and his courtiers were probably similarly afflicted. In any event, this makes for variety and entertainment – there are plenty of these qualities to be had on this recording. 

Performances throughout are excellent – there is not one weak contribution. The soloists in the vocal excerpts are as accomplished as the orchestral players and the direction is superb. All concerned enter into the fun – including the prominent drum part in the Overture to Acante et Céphise (track 4). 

The recording is ideal; though taken from a range of sources and involving different producers and, presumably, different sound engineers and venues – the booklet does not specify – it is remarkably consistent in ambience and quality. 

The notes are informative and the (slightly abridged) English version is idiomatic. The presentation, in a laminated gatefold sleeve, the booklet housed in a pouch, is attractive. The English translation wisely does not attempt to render the French title – the Magnificent Musical Fountains of Versailles would be my inadequate best shot. A careless piece of editing in the booklet makes Rameau 101 at his death. 

You could do much worse in terms of an introduction to the very enjoyable music of Lully, Rameau and Desmarest, but the re-use of existing material detracts somewhat from its value. An equally serious reservation concerns the lack of texts for the vocal items – there aren’t that many, so they could easily have been fitted in. The ‘thumbs-up’ which I would otherwise have awarded is withheld for these reasons – and also because listening to this CD will probably tempt you to further duplication by investigating one of the complete recordings advertised in the booklet. 

Two super-budget-price recommendations of music by Lully will serve equally well as introductions to this music or as further listening for those who buy the Naïve recording and wish to explore further:

Naxos 8.554003: Ballet Music for the Sun King (Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon), 73 minutes of music from Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and several of the comédies-ballets, excellently performed on original instruments, plus less authentic kazoos and comb-and-paper! A real fun CD – and the words and translations of the vocal items are included in the booklet.

Warner Apex 2564 62184-2: a 2-CD set of music from the comédies-ballets plus 74 minutes of excerpts from Phaëton (Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski). Another excellent bargain; there are about 11 minutes overlap with the Naxos CD on this well-filled set but, at the very low price, around £8 in the UK, that’s a small matter. No texts for the vocal excerpts, though. 

For a more substantial chunk of the French baroque, the super-budget 4-CD reissue of recordings of Charpentier, including Les Plaisirs de Versailles and La Descente d’Orphée, by Les Arts Florissants/William Christie takes some beating (Warner Classics 2564 61758-2, £20 or less in the UK). For some other recommendations, see my review of Musique à Versailles performed by the Trio Marie-Antoinette on Campanella Musica C130090.

Brian Wilson


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