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Music of French Masters - Music of the Warsaw Castle
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Suite from the opera Armide LWV 71 (1886) [19:33]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Sonata en Quatour ‘La Sultane’ (c. 1693) [9:57]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Suite from the opera Ariane et Bacchus (1696) [13:06]
Michel CORRETTE (1707-1795)
Concerto in D Major ‘Le Phénix’ (c. 1738) [8:17]
André CAMPRA (1660-1744)
Suite from the opera Tancrède (1702) [13:36]
Krysztof Firlus (viola da gamba)
{oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna/Martyna Pastuszka (violin)
rec. live, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra Hall, Katowice, Poland, 23 October 2015 (Lully, Marias, Campra); Great Assembly Hall, Royal Castle, Warsaw, Poland, 22 March 2016 (Couperin, Corrette)
DUX 1382 [64:57]

This is an entertaining and very live recording that contains some exhilarating playing, although there are one or two non-musical noises during the music, that I know might put some listeners off, but when the playing is as good as this you can’t help but be drawn into the occasion. The Polish ensemble, {oh!}, are new to me and whilst you would expect them to be performing from the wealth of Polish baroque music, here they have chosen to record works by some of the greatest names from the French baroque, a period of music in which I am greatly interested.

The best-known composer presented here is Lully, who some have described as the father of French baroque music, and rightly so as the flavour and character of the nation's music certainly changed after his arrival from Italy and his rise to power at the court of Louis XIV. I know the opera Armide through Philippe Herreweghe’s fine recording (HMC901456/57), which is sadly no longer available, as it offers the listener a better overview of this tragic story, the suite presented here concentrating on the livelier episodes from the opera. This is the same with most suites, they can hardly convey the full drama of the work, however, as a suite of dances this is beautiful music which is performed well and includes some stage effects.

François Couperin’s La Sultane is probably his most famous chamber work and there have been a number of fine recordings over the years, I came to know the work through the Kuijken’s excellent recording (SBK 62941), who divides the work in to its six movements, each with a different index number, where as on my other disc by Les Dominos and Florence Malgoire (RIC330), the work is presented as here, in one single track. The present recording is wonderful, it presents a characterful and colourful performance, one that manages to convey the excitement of the live performance.

Ariane et Bacchus by Marin Marais is certainly new to me, with most of his music that I know is for viole’s, although I do have and enjoy his opera Sémele (GCD 921614). The suite of music presented here seems to be receiving its première recording and on this evidence someone like Glossa or Harmonia Mundi should record the whole opera, with the three pieces recorded here making more than a good case for the complete work. The Suite has great poise and élan and reminds us just how good a composer Marais was.

Michel Corrette first came in to my collection with a recording of his remarkable setting of Laudate Dominum where he takes the setting of Psalm 148 and weaves it around an adaptation of Vivaldi’s Spring from the Four Seasons. Since when I have gotten a couple of further discs of his music including a disc of his concertos by the Ensemble Stradivaria and Daniel Cuiller (4762537), which whilst it contains ten concertos by Corrette, it does not contain Le Phénix. I do know the work, though, in a performance including a bassoon as a solo instrument. I was not impressed with that version and find the sonorities of the two viola da gambas a great improvement.

The music of André Campra, whilst not unknown to me, does not feature heavily on my shelves, only a couple of discs, his Messe de Requiem (HMG 501251), his Motets (ARN 68498) and his Cantates françaises (HMA 1951238), but sadly none of his orchestral or operatic music and on this evidence, this is something I should rectify. The music is colourful and employs various devices to portray the particular character of each piece.

{oh!} are excellent throughout, they use an array of usual instruments as well as the unusual. Although not stated the percussionist seems to use what sounds like a heavy chain on the floor, a thunder sheet, finger cymbals and perhaps even a Jingling Jonny to add to the atmosphere of the music. The audience are considerate and only applaud at the end of each work, with the recorded sound capturing the occasion well. The booklet notes, in both Polish and English, are brief but informative, giving a short introduction to each work.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Dave Billinge

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