Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV
Céline Scheen (soprano)
Lucile Richardot (mezzo soprano)
Samuel Boden (haute contre)
Marc Mauillon (baritone)
Christian Immler (bass-baritone)
rec. 2015, Chapelle Royale de Versailles
HARMONIA MUNDI HMD9909056.57 Blu-ray/DVD 
It will surprise few to learn that the funeral exequies of Louis XIV of France were extensive. The Sun King, still the longest reigning monarch in European history, died at Versailles on 1st September 1715 and enormous ceremony, much of it musical, accompanied the king’s body before it was interred among his ancestors in the Basilica of Saint Denis a week later. Pygmalion’s aim in this release, which contains both a DVD and Blu-ray of the same performance, isn’t so much to recreate a specific event as to recapture in one performance the emotional tenet of what much of that week must have held, using some of the music that may have been used for the events.
So we’re watching here an intentional construct rather than a meticulously observed reconstruction, which is important to remember when taking it in. The Chapelle Royale de Versailles is an impeccable choice of location, which both looks and sounds great in the major numbers, though I confess I had to get several gripes out of the way before I could settle into it.
For one thing, before the concert proper begins they sing offstage plainchant and then process into the chapel in semi-darkness. That’s an atmospheric way to begin, but it’s rather drawn out! I felt they’d made their point with the muffled drumbeats long before they arrived at the high altar. Furthermore, in the light of this, it’s a pretty serious limitation that the sound is 2.0 stereo only. If ever a DVD/BD called for surround sound it’s here, and failing to use it feels like a wasted opportunity.
That said, it is a very atmospheric setting, and it’s an involving introduction to the main event, which is a beguiling presentation of some of the greats of the French High Baroque, composers in the Sun King’s orbit whose liturgical music must have formed the soundtracks to many of his days. Generally, Raphaël Pichon alternates plainchant with the more elaborate musical settings, and his choir and orchestra follow every caress and flick of his hands in a way that simply oozes gallic panache. One of the things I enjoyed was the incredibly juicy gallic pronunciation of Latin – oh, those vowels! – from both the chorus and the soloists, and the orchestra play their music with an ineffably sophisticated lean into the sound.
The music itself lives up to the theatricality of the occasion, as well as the strength of the historic setting. There are a lot of settings of the De profundis, the finest of which is Lalande’s, and indeed Lalande carries off a lot of the honours here. His lengthy setting of the Dies Irae finishes the disc, but his instrumental music also sounds remarkably persuasive. Two other unaccompanied settings of the De profundis, by Chein, sound very fine, though d’Helfer’s Pie Jesu is even lovelier, perhaps the finest thing in the whole set.
Watching them it’s interesting to see how Pichon has them eating out of his hand. This is his own group, and they clearly trust him and so they follow every nuance of his instructions. The soloists do likewise, and all sound great, though Christian Immler’s baritone melted my heart into a particularly soft pulp.
The overall result is remarkably euphonious, creating a release that might not be quite as historically valuable as it might at first appear, but which nevertheless serves as an opportunity to revel in some of the most luxurious (and least well known) repertoire that the French Baroque has to offer.
Region code: all regions
Picture format 16:9
Sound format 2.0 stereo
Sung in French, subtitles in Latin, French and English
Booklet notes in French and English
Subvenite Sancti Dei
Libera me Domine
Qui Lazarum resuscitasti
André Danican Philidor
Marche pour les Pompes funebres des ceremonies extraordinaires
Michel-Richard de Lalande
De Profundis, S23
Grande Piece in G 'Fantaisie ou Caprice que le Roy demandoit souvent'
Published: October 10, 2022