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Brillez, astres nouveaux!
Chantal Santon-Jeffery (soprano)
Purcell Choir
Orfeo Orchestra/György Vashegyi
rec. 2017, Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, Müpa Budapest, Hungary
Sung French texts with English translations.
APARTÉ AP223 [76:34]

Hot on the heels of Katherine Watson’s wonderful venture into the wonders of French baroque opera (review), the label comes up with another stunning foray into the art. Chantal Santon Jeffery performs the music from the slightly later period, centred on arguably the master of French baroque opera, Jean-Philippe Rameau. Aparté have gone further than most in how they have travelled the byways of musical history; some composers here are new and unusual, even for a self-confessed baroque Francophile like me.

This well-constructed and interesting program begins, as all good French baroque operas should, with an overture. This one comes from Les caractères de la folie by Bernard de Bury. He is new to me, and a quick search shows why: only a couple of discs featuring his music are available. This is a strong and bold opening, typical of the French overture of the period. It leads directly into Chantal Santon Jeffery’s first solo, a beautiful plea to the god of love, Dieu des amants from the opera I know well. Les fêtes de Paphos by the composer with one of the best names in all of French music, Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville. Here is where the program makes sense. Mondonville’s tender theme is followed directly by a musette in the same style from Rameau’s La naissance d’Osiris. Next comes a tender assertion that ‘Every rank, every sex, every age, must aspire to happiness’ from Le temple de la gloire also by Rameau; Chantal Santon Jeffery is joined by the excellent Purcell Choir. It is only then that the spanner is metaphorically thrown into the works. The dark, ominous music of the chorus Quelle vengeance! quelle horreur! from Pancrace Royer’s Le pouvoir de l’amour clearly shows that true love will not be running smoothly. The disc acquires the feel of an “opéra imaginaire”, a device commonly used in France during the period to create new entertainment for an ever-hungry audience.

This is how this disc progresses, with pieces from seventeen operas, many of which will be new to people – but love wins out in the end. Rameau is the glue that holds this disc together, with excerpts from six of his operas. But it is the other works which show the breadth of French opera of this period. They hold the greatest interest, as they are in no way inferior to the Rameau selections. Indeed, if this disc shows me anything it is that I need to invest more time, effort and money to improve my knowledge of French opera of the late baroque period. All too often, we are told that Rameau is the be-all and end-all of opera during this period; it is clear that he was not. I have operas by Mondonville, Leclair and Boismortier, and music by a couple of others featured here, but I will certainly be looking in greater depth into Bernard de Bury, Jean-Baptiste Cardonne, Antoine Dauvergne and Charles-Hubert Gervais, the four composers new to me. Their contribution to the proceedings are as important as those of their better known compatriots.

I particularly enjoyed Cardonne’s selections. The music from his opera Omphale is very good. Antoine Dauvergne’s Canente seems a real find. But even for the composers I know well, it is clear that one or two operas is not enough. The works I have, apart from one of Mondonville’s, do not appear on this disc, showing the gaps in my collection that, on this evidence, need to be filled. Yes, I appreciate that this project has been a judicious cherry picking of the best bits to illustrate the music of the period, but the result is a marvellous adventure. The listener encounters here wonders that will thrill and enthral in equal measure.

This is certainly not the first time that the forces employed here have worked together. My favourite occasion is the 2017 release of Mondonville’s Isbé (Glossa GLO924001), a truly wonderful recording, but this disc is not far behind. This familiarity has bred an innate understanding in the soloist, chorus and orchestra of just what György Vashegyi desires, and achieves, from them. The results are quite stunning, and if anything, eclipse those of Katherine Watson’s excellent disc. This is a recording that all fans of French baroque opera and opera in general should rush to buy!

The soprano Chantal Santon Jeffery is in fabulous voice, as are the Purcell Choir, whilst the exceptional playing of the Orfeo Orchestra adds greatly to the proceedings, and not just in the purely orchestral parts. It is not clear whether György Vashegyi had a say in the construction of this program, but even so, his contribution is great, as he wields his baton with great feeling and authority. The booklet essay in French, English and German is very good. The illustrations of period costume designs and manuscript pages are a nice touch. Great recorded sound only heightens the listeners enjoyment of this music, a winner in every respect. Highly recommended.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Michael Cookson

1. Bury, Les Caractères de la Folie (1743) | Ouverture [2:11]
2. Mondonville, Les Fêtes de Paphos (1758) | « Dieu des amants » [3:11]
3. Rameau, La Naissance d’Osiris (1754) | Musette tendre [1:15]
4. Rameau, Le Temple de la Gloire (1745) | « Tout rang, tout sexe, tout âge » [2:29]
5. Royer, Le Pouvoir de l’Amour (1743) | « Quelle vengeance ! quelle horreur » [3:31]
6. Cardonne, Omphale (1769) | « Que le jour pâlissant » [1:17]
7. « Que tout serve en ces lieux » [3:14]
8. Premier Air pour les magiciens [1:52]
9. « Pluton répond à nos souhaits » [3:13]
10. Rameau, Les Fêtes d’Hébé (1739) | « Dieux qui me condamnez » [3:00]
11. Royer, Le Pouvoir de l’Amour | Ritournelle [0:44]
12. Rameau, Les Fêtes d’Hébé | « Veillez sur ces guerriers » [2:06]
13. « Dieu tout puissant » [2:17]
14. Leclair, Scylla et Glaucus (1746) | Symphonie pour la descente de Vénus [1:31]
15. Rameau, Dardanus (1744) | « Courez à la victoire » [2:48]
16. Rameau, Les Fêtes d’Hébé | « Éclatante trompette, annoncez notre gloire » [2:20]
17. Royer, Le Pouvoir de l’Amour | Ouverture [3:55]
18. Mondonville, Le Carnaval du Parnasse (1749) | « Que votre gloire vous rassemble » [2:24]
19. Rameau, Les Paladins (1760) | « Triste séjour, solitude ennuyeuse » [2:02]
20. Mondonville, Les Fêtes de Paphos | « Laissons de mon amour » [1:29]
21. Dauvergne, Canente (1760) | Air pour les magiciens [1:35]
22. « Où suis-je ? qui prendra ma défense » [0:13]
23. « Tremble, c’est l’amour jaloux » [1:10]
24. « Qui peut me délivrer » [0:18]
25. « Calmez, de vos fureurs » [3:38]
26. Royer, Le Pouvoir de l’Amour | Marche [2:33]
27. Boismortier, Daphnis et Chloé (1747) | « Cesse de répandre des larmes » [1:44]
28. Gervais, Pomone (1720) | « Quels doux concerts » [2:07]
29. Boismortier, Les Voyages de l’Amour (1736) | « Doux sommeil… » [4:15]
30. Dauvergne, Polyxène (1763) | Premier et deuxième Airs [2:24]
31. Rameau, Le Temple de la Gloire | « Vole, charmant Amour » [3:30]
32. Bury, Les Caractères de la Folie | « Charmant Amour, âme du monde » [2:57]
33. Rameau, Castor et Pollux (1737) | « Brillez, astres nouveaux… ! » [3:23]

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