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The Versailles Revolution
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Roland, LWV65: Suite (1685) [21:06]
Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704)
Florilegium secundum: Fasciculus I - Nobilis Juventus (1698) [13:01]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Ariane et Bacchus: Suite (1696) [27:59]
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra/Barthold Kuijken
rec. 2014, Ruth Lilly Performance Hall, Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, University of Indianapolis, USA
NAXOS 8.573868 [62:06] 

Not long ago I reviewed an earlier recording by these performers entitled The Lully Effect (Naxos 8.573867). I found the performances, from a group which I hadn’t encountered before, revelatory. Despite the appearance of his name in the title, Lully’s music doesn’t feature as much on that earlier CD as that of two composers whom he influenced: Telemann and Rameau. On the new release he is more substantially represented; his suite from Roland occupies a third of the proceedings.

Immediately, that’s one of the big pluses of the second Indianapolis recording: there is no other available version of this suite, though an aria from the complete opera features on an Erato album of Divertissements de Versailles: Great Operatic Scenes (0927446552: Les Arts Florissants/William Christie) and a very fine account of the complete opera is available to download, albeit without booklet (Ambroisie AMB9949: Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset). Substantial excerpts from the Rousset recording are available on Les Grands Eaux musicales de Versailles (Naïve Ambroisie AM167 – review).

Barthold Kuijken takes the Overture at a statelier pace than Rousset without losing any of the momentum of the music. Despite my enthusiasm for the Ambroisie recital when I heard it, the Naxos approach now seems more appropriate for music associated with Versailles. Rousset, on the other hand, gives a longer account of the chaconne, a dance movement which by Lully’s time had certainly shaken off its racy origins, but there’s nothing hurried about the Indianapolis account with slightly fewer repeats taken. In both performances this movement is the epitome of the music for Versailles. If you want a blend of orchestral and vocal music, go for the Rousset; for the orchestral suite Kuijken and his team will do very nicely. The Naxos notes speak of the expressive depth of Lully’s chaconnes - exactement!

There are several recordings of Muffat’s Florilegium primum, but fewer of its successor Florilegium secundum. An Archiv recording rescued by Presto as a special CD and also available as a download includes a 17-minute excerpt, but not the music included on the Naxos recording. That leaves only The Academy of Music and Christopher Hogwood in the complete Florilegium secundum (Decca 4759118, download only, budget price) and an Accent recording of Music at the Bavarian court recorded by Stylus Phantasticus (Harmonie des Nations, ACC4200). The Hogwood was a pioneering recording in 1981; it lent its name to the Oiseau-Lyre Florilegium series and it’s still very worthwhile, but the new recording gives it a good run for its money unless you want the complete work, which would be no bad thing.

Marin Marais is more often associated with music for the viols. I can’t find any other recording of any part of his tragédie en musique from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Ariane et Bacchus, in the catalogue on CD or as a download, so the new recording is welcome for this even more than for the other items. Muffat’s own preserved performance instructions have been followed for this recording.

Despite the rarity of these works, all the music breathes the spirit of the French court and, with the influence of Lully clearly at work throughout, this is if anything even more tempting than the earlier CD. Very fine performances and recording make it all the more desirable.

As before, the virtues of this release are rounded off with very worthwhile notes from Thomas Gerber and Barthold Kuijken, the latter amply justifying the use of the word ‘revolution’ in the album title. Naxos CDs are still good value – you should be able to find this for just over £6 or around $9 – but better value still as a download; in this case you can find 16-bit for less than £4 and hi-res for less than £5. Or, if a member, you could stream from Naxos Music Library. (Beware: one dealer, bizarrely, is asking much more for an mp3 download than for the CD! Where do these crazy pricing policies come from?)

Why have we had to wait so long for these two very fine releases? Is there more in the pipeline? If not, please, Naxos, get back to Indianapolis post-haste and record some more.

Brian Wilson

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