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Devieilhe Bach 9029667786
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Sabine Devieilhe (soprano)
Bach ▪ Handel
Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon
rec. December 2020, Temple du St-Esprit, Paris, France
Sung texts with English translations.
ERATO 9029667786 [83:37]

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe is much in demand. Here is yet another of her albums on Erato: works of two great masters of the late-baroque era, Bach and Handel. I first encountered her artistry when reviewing her album Mirages, where she sang a dozen French opera arias with Les Siècles led by François-Xavier Roth.

Devieilhe explains that the theme of this new album is ‘great sorrow and great joy’. The programme of sacred and secular works is comparable to her concert performances with the period-instrument orchestra Pygmalion, founded in 2006 by Raphaël Pichon (privately her husband). She was thrilled to record this album during lockdown, which at one point she thought would not be possible. Baritone Stéphane Degout and theorbo player Thomas Dunford make guest appearances.

Devieilhe, an accomplished artist, can explore profound human emotions, and she just gets better and better. Here she brings us a convincing and sincere immersion in the texts. Blessed with a natural beauty of tone, her voice has an unwavering fluidity and purity. She navigates the coloratura demands efficiently and with an agreeable effect. This is an outstanding album from the first note to the last, with several really special numbers.

At the core of Bach’s output are the cantatas, of which over two hundred survive, mostly settings of sacred texts for the Lutheran liturgy. Although Bach produced them at a punishing rate, they contain much glorious music written with the utmost care and sincerity, and afford sensitivity to the sacred texts.

We have here two church cantatas for solo soprano. Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199 contains movements that feature the oboe and a viola da gamba solo played by Lucile Boulanger. Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51 has a significant coloratura and a prominent trumpet part played by Rux Hannes. There also is a sacred song Mein Jesu! was für Seelenweh, BWV 487 with Thomas Dunford’s expert archlute accompaniment, and the Sinfonia from the cantata Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal, BWV 146. Devieilhe gives a compelling performance in BWV 487. The song, with its glorious melody and words of grief, reminds me of Purcell’s romantic love songs. In BWV 199, uplifting and joyous, Devieilhe sings Wie freudig ist mein Herz where God’s love is celebrated.

Handel is renowned for his operas and oratorios rather than sacred works. The oratorios, notably Messiah, do deal with sacred subjects but they were intended for the theatre stage, not the church. Handel’s choral works for the church were seldom the main focus of his attention.
Devieilhe has selected two soprano arias from Handel’s great Italian baroque opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto, two from the German oratorio Brockes Passion, HWV 48, and one from the underrated oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, HWV 46a. Please see the end of the review for the details on the arias.

The Mary and Jesus short duet Soll mein kind, mein leben sterben from Brockes Passion is quite striking. Stéphane Degout sings the baritone part. The contrasting voices of exceptional quality provide deep emotions, and communicate a humane aspect of the passion narrative. In a publicity video for the album, Devieilhe recalls the joy of singing Bellezza (Beauty) in Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno with conductor Emmanuelle Haïm at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. In Bellezza’s final aria, the impassioned Tu del Ciel ministro eletto, Devieilhe’s voice has a melting splendour as she evokes unbearable heartbreak.

Giulio Cesare in Egitto is among my favourites in Handel’s opus, with many arias and duets. Devieilhe sings two of Cleopatra’s praiseworthy arias. In Se pietà di me non senti, Cleopatra realises that she is now truly in love with Roman General Cesare; if she loses him, she will soon die without assistance from heaven. Devieilhe, clearly relishing the long melodic lines, gives an affectingly dramatic performance. In Piangerò la sorte mia, the captured Cleopatra ponders her destiny; if she dies, she can return and haunt her brother Tolomeo. In the lament, Devieilhe shows empathy for her character: sorrow and anguish in the outer sections, fury and panic in the dramatic central section Allegro. Devieilhe’s coloratura technique allows her to make vocal embellishments well-chosen and tellingly achieved.

The period-instrument ensemble Pygmalion under Raphaël Pichon play beautifully and persuasively. Their major contribution makes this recording very absorbing. At one extreme of the scale, Pichon gives us spirit, energy and determination, at the other, compassion, subtlety and grace. The recording was made at height of the pandemic lockdown. The engineering team are to be commended for achieving first-class sound. Devieilhe’s booklet notes supply a very brief introduction (but no information on the works), and there are sung texts with English translations.

Top marks to the artists for creating a captivating album of works that convincingly communicate the theme of ‘great sorrow and great joy’.

Michael Cookson


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
1. Sacred Song - Mein Jesu! was für Seelenweh, BWV 487
2. Sinfonia to Church Cantata - Wir Müssen Durch Viel Trübsal, BWV 146
Church Cantata - Mein Herze Schwimmt Im Blut, BWV 199 (1714)
3. I. Mein Herze Schwimmt Im Blut, Recitative
4. II. Stumme Seufzer, Stille Klagen, Aria
5. III. Doch Gott Muss Mir Genädig Sein, Recitative
6. IV. Tief Gebückt Und Voller Reue, Aria
7. V. Auf Diese Schmerzensreu, Recitative
8. VI. Ich, Dein Betrübtes Kind, Chorale
9. VII. Ich Lege Mich In Diese Wunden, Recitative
10. VIII: Wie Freudig Ist Mein Herz, Aria
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
from the Oratorio - Brockes Passion, HWV 48
11. No. 40a, Recitative - Ach Gott! mein Sohn wird fortgeschleppt (Maria)
12. No. 40b, Duet - Soll mein Kind, mein Leben sterben - Ja, Ich sterbe dir zu gut (Maria, Jesus)
from the opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto (act II, scene 8)
13. No. 28, Accompanied Recitative - Che sento? O dio! (Cleopatra)
14. No. 29, Aria - Se pietà di me non senti (Cleopatra)
from the Oratorio - Brockes Passion, HWV 48
15. No. 42b, Aria - Hier erstarrt mein Herz und Blut (Gläubige Seele)
16. No. 42c, Recitative - O Anblick, o entsetzliches Gesicht (Gläubige Seele)
from the opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Act III
17. No. 35, Aria - Piangerò la sorte mia (Cleopatra)
from the Oratorio - Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, HWV 46a
18. Accompanied Recitative - Pure del cielo intelligenze eterne (Bellezza)
19. Aria - Tu del Ciel ministro eletto (Bellezza)
Johann Sebastian BACH
Church Cantata - Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51
20. No. 1, Aria - Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen
21. No. 2, Recitative - Wir beten zu dem Tempel an
22. No. 3, Aria - Höchster, mach deine Güte
23. No. 4, Chorale - Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren
24. No. 5, Finale - Alleluja!

Violin 1: Sophie Gent (solo tr. 19, 20, 23), Sandrine Dupe, Béatrice Linon, Yukiko Tezuka
Violin 2: Louis Creac’h (solo tr. 23), Paul-Marie Beauny, Gabriel Ferry, Coline Ormond
Violas: Fanny Paccoud, Katya Polin, Marta Paramo,
Cello: Julien Barre (solo tr. 17, 22), Cyril Poulet
Viola da gamba: Lucile Boulanger (solo tr. 8)
Double bass: Thomas de Pierrefeu,
Lute: Thomas Dunford (archlute solo tr. 1)
Harpsichord: Pierre Gallon
Organ: Matthieu Boutineau (solo tr. 2)
Bassoon: Evolène Kiener, Josep Casadella
Oboe: Jasu Moisio, Lidewei De Sterck (both players, solo tr. 2, 12, 15)
Flute: Georges Barthel
Trumpet: Hannes Rux

Stéphane Degout (baritone, tr. 12)

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