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Classical - Released May 14, 2021 | Alpha Classics

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After the past 18 months, we could all be forgiven for forgetting that our generation doesn't have the monopoly on sitting in mortal peril at the mercy of a powerful and uncontrollable natural force. However we don't. Humankind has of course both been here before, and bequeathed us the art by which to remember it – including many of the texts set by German Baroque composer Philipp Heinrich Erlebach in his Harmonische Freude musikalischer Freunde. Published in Nuremberg respectively in 1697 and 1710, these two vocal collections contain respectively 50 and 25 arias for one to four solo voices accompanied by instrumental ensemble and basso continuo, setting poems that flit between the moralistic and secular spheres; and while ultimately this is conjecture, they do at least appear to hint at their contemporary context of an era lived against the backdrop of natural disasters including Bubonic Plague, and the superstitious fear provoked in 1680 by the appearance of Europe's largest comet of the seventeenth century – an event perhaps referenced in the line, “Today bloody comets shine, Tomorrow we are free of distress”. As for Erlebach himself, he was born in 1657 in Essens, and spent almost the entirety of his life and career as one of the stars of the Thuringian court of Rudolstadt, which at that point was an aristocratic capital whose vibrant musical life kept fully abreast of European musical trends. Having been appointed Rudolstadt's Kapelldirektor as young as 24, Erlebach went on to be described by the influential music theorist Wolfgang Caspar Printz in 1696 as a musician “who among German composers gives the most satisfaction and acquits himself with great distinction”. So it's tragic that the vast majority of the huge collection of music he left behind at his death in 1714 was lost to a fire just twenty years later. Especially when what is left is so tantalisingly good, as is demonstrated by this superbly performed, sensitively engineered programme from countertenor Damien Guillon and his ensemble Le Banquet Céleste (consisting of two violins, two viola da gamba, violone, archlute and alternating harpsichord and organ). As advertised, the main meat here is Lieder from those aforementioned vocal collections: seven in total, opening with with the sombre lament, Seine Not recht uberlegen wird manch Tränen-Bad erregen – over which the poet mourns his distress before drawing comfort on the thought that heaven sees him – whose gently sighing lines are a lovely fit for Guillon's softly warm, otherworldly yet clean-edged, penetrating tones. Le Banquet Céleste is no less immediately beguiling either, as its piano violins weave searchingly around Guillon, alive to his every inflection. Onwards, and while the Lieder's atmosphere of intimate, sober reflection remains the constant, the individual flavours vary. For instance, next up is Des Tadlers stich verlache ich, a feisty, up-tempo repost to the poet's mockers, where Guillon brings fabulously crisp definition and en pointe technical control to its fast passagework – something you're also constantly appreciating over his embellishments. Plus there's more, because punctuating the Lieder are two of Erlebach's trio sonatas, published a few years before the arias. Consisting of a three-section (slow-fast-slow) sonata movement appended by a dance suite, these serve as the perfect complements and palate cleansers to the Lieder's intense emotions, all adding up to an album you're likely to find yourself making repeat visits to for some time to come. © Charlotte Gardner/Qobuz --------Accompanied by his ensemble Le Banquet Céleste, the countertenor Damien Guillon places his voice at the service of a programme of vocal pieces by the German Baroque composer Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, a large part of whose output was destroyed in a fire at Rudolstadt Castle in 1735. Among the works that have come down to us are the two collections Harmonische Freude musikalischer Freunde, containing respectively fifty and twenty-five arias for one to four solo voices, instrumental ensemble and basso continuo. Most of the German texts of these pieces depict humankind at the mercy of an unpredictable and volatile destiny. Alongside natural phenomena such as storms, dark clouds and withered leaves, the poet also chooses the expression "bloody comets" as a metaphor for torment and ‘the distress of the heart’. In fact, the biggest comet of the seventeenth century appeared in Europe in 1680: contemporaries feared these celestial bodies, seeing them as bad omens. © Alpha Classics
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Vocal Music (Secular and Sacred) - Released March 27, 2020 | Alpha

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A composer who led a dissolute life and ended up stabbed to death in Genoa, Stradella nevertheless left a distinctive stamp on the history of music. He is situated at the intersection of several stylistic paths and periods, at the crossroads between opera and sacred drama, since his output, and especially San Giovanni Battista, marks the encounter of the great Roman oratorio inherited from Carissimi with the Venetian opera of Cavalli. Stradella is also close to the next generation, that of Scarlatti and Handel. His music is characterised by liveliness, expressiveness and profound humanity. Although San Giovanni Battista enjoyed genuine success when it was premiered in 1675, it was only in 1949 that the work was exhumed from the libraries where its score lay slumbering. That event took place in Perugia, and the role of Salome was sung by Maria Callas. © Alpha Classics
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Classical - Released April 17, 2012 | Alpha

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It would be hard to conceive of more annoying graphic design that proffered on this release from the Zig Zag Territoires label, identified with a big "ZZT" (no, that's not an electric shock warning). There, however, the list of complaints pretty much ends. This little program of solo cantatas and organ works by countertenor Damien Guillon and his historical instrument group Le Banquet Céleste was beautifully recorded in a small Strasbourg church and it's an intimate gem. Front and center is Guillon's singing, which is sweet, nicely rounded in the high tones, and couched in an attitude of relaxed calm. Organist Maude Gratton offers a trio sonata and a sparkling rendition of the Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, which ends the program on a unique rousing note. The instrumentalists have a sensuous sound and are so well coordinated with Guillon that they seem like extensions of his singing. With the emphasis in recordings of Bach cantatas having long been on the grand conceptions of the charismatic figures who have undertaken complete Bach cycles, a small, unified, and beautifully executed recording like this one comes as a breath of fresh air, and it represents the French way with Bach at its best. © TiVo
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Classical - Released March 27, 2020 | Alpha Classics

Hi-Res Booklet
A composer who led a dissolute life and ended up stabbed to death in Genoa, Stradella nevertheless left a distinctive stamp on the history of music. He is situated at the intersection of several stylistic paths and periods, at the crossroads between opera and sacred drama, since his output, and especially San Giovanni Battista, marks the encounter of the great Roman oratorio inherited from Carissimi with the Venetian opera of Cavalli. Stradella is also close to the next generation, that of Scarlatti and Handel. His music is characterised by liveliness, expressiveness and profound humanity. Although San Giovanni Battista enjoyed genuine success when it was premiered in 1675, it was only in 1949 that the work was exhumed from the libraries where its score lay slumbering. That event took place in Perugia, and the role of Salome was sung by Maria Callas. © Alpha Classics
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Classical - Released April 17, 2012 | Alpha Classics

Hi-Res Booklet
It would be hard to conceive of more annoying graphic design that proffered on this release from the Zig Zag Territoires label, identified with a big "ZZT" (no, that's not an electric shock warning). There, however, the list of complaints pretty much ends. This little program of solo cantatas and organ works by countertenor Damien Guillon and his historical instrument group Le Banquet Céleste was beautifully recorded in a small Strasbourg church and it's an intimate gem. Front and center is Guillon's singing, which is sweet, nicely rounded in the high tones, and couched in an attitude of relaxed calm. Organist Maude Gratton offers a trio sonata and a sparkling rendition of the Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, which ends the program on a unique rousing note. The instrumentalists have a sensuous sound and are so well coordinated with Guillon that they seem like extensions of his singing. With the emphasis in recordings of Bach cantatas having long been on the grand conceptions of the charismatic figures who have undertaken complete Bach cycles, a small, unified, and beautifully executed recording like this one comes as a breath of fresh air, and it represents the French way with Bach at its best. © TiVo
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Classical - Released May 14, 2021 | Alpha Classics

Hi-Res Booklet
After the past 18 months, we could all be forgiven for forgetting that our generation doesn't have the monopoly on sitting in mortal peril at the mercy of a powerful and uncontrollable natural force. However we don't. Humankind has of course both been here before, and bequeathed us the art by which to remember it – including many of the texts set by German Baroque composer Philipp Heinrich Erlebach in his Harmonische Freude musikalischer Freunde. Published in Nuremberg respectively in 1697 and 1710, these two vocal collections contain respectively 50 and 25 arias for one to four solo voices accompanied by instrumental ensemble and basso continuo, setting poems that flit between the moralistic and secular spheres; and while ultimately this is conjecture, they do at least appear to hint at their contemporary context of an era lived against the backdrop of natural disasters including Bubonic Plague, and the superstitious fear provoked in 1680 by the appearance of Europe's largest comet of the seventeenth century – an event perhaps referenced in the line, “Today bloody comets shine, Tomorrow we are free of distress”. As for Erlebach himself, he was born in 1657 in Essens, and spent almost the entirety of his life and career as one of the stars of the Thuringian court of Rudolstadt, which at that point was an aristocratic capital whose vibrant musical life kept fully abreast of European musical trends. Having been appointed Rudolstadt's Kapelldirektor as young as 24, Erlebach went on to be described by the influential music theorist Wolfgang Caspar Printz in 1696 as a musician “who among German composers gives the most satisfaction and acquits himself with great distinction”. So it's tragic that the vast majority of the huge collection of music he left behind at his death in 1714 was lost to a fire just twenty years later. Especially when what is left is so tantalisingly good, as is demonstrated by this superbly performed, sensitively engineered programme from countertenor Damien Guillon and his ensemble Le Banquet Céleste (consisting of two violins, two viola da gamba, violone, archlute and alternating harpsichord and organ). As advertised, the main meat here is Lieder from those aforementioned vocal collections: seven in total, opening with with the sombre lament, Seine Not recht uberlegen wird manch Tränen-Bad erregen – over which the poet mourns his distress before drawing comfort on the thought that heaven sees him – whose gently sighing lines are a lovely fit for Guillon's softly warm, otherworldly yet clean-edged, penetrating tones. Le Banquet Céleste is no less immediately beguiling either, as its piano violins weave searchingly around Guillon, alive to his every inflection. Onwards, and while the Lieder's atmosphere of intimate, sober reflection remains the constant, the individual flavours vary. For instance, next up is Des Tadlers stich verlache ich, a feisty, up-tempo repost to the poet's mockers, where Guillon brings fabulously crisp definition and en pointe technical control to its fast passagework – something you're also constantly appreciating over his embellishments. Plus there's more, because punctuating the Lieder are two of Erlebach's trio sonatas, published a few years before the arias. Consisting of a three-section (slow-fast-slow) sonata movement appended by a dance suite, these serve as the perfect complements and palate cleansers to the Lieder's intense emotions, all adding up to an album you're likely to find yourself making repeat visits to for some time to come. © Charlotte Gardner/Qobuz -------- Accompanied by his ensemble Le Banquet Céleste, the countertenor Damien Guillon places his voice at the service of a programme of vocal pieces by the German Baroque composer Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, a large part of whose output was destroyed in a fire at Rudolstadt Castle in 1735. Among the works that have come down to us are the two collections Harmonische Freude musikalischer Freunde, containing respectively fifty and twenty-five arias for one to four solo voices, instrumental ensemble and basso continuo. Most of the German texts of these pieces depict humankind at the mercy of an unpredictable and volatile destiny. Alongside natural phenomena such as storms, dark clouds and withered leaves, the poet also chooses the expression "bloody comets" as a metaphor for torment and ‘the distress of the heart’. In fact, the biggest comet of the seventeenth century appeared in Europe in 1680: contemporaries feared these celestial bodies, seeing them as bad omens. © Alpha Classics
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Classical - Released September 14, 2018 | Alpha Classics

Hi-Res Booklet
There is no shortage of parallels to be drawn between Caldara and Vivaldi: both Venetians, both boasting an impressive body of work running to several hundred pieces of all genres, both died in Vienna (in the same street and in the same penury!), although Caldara had written more operas and oratorios than the Red Priest. And here is one of these very 32 known oratorios, Maddalena ai piedi di Christo written in Venice around 1698; it is "oratorio volgare", that is, recited in Italian, rather than Latin. Originally written as an accompaniment to spiritual exercises, the oratorio came to replace profane operas when the theatres were closed, especially from November to Lent. It took on the guise of opera, and used many of its techniques: naves and altars were (re)decorated and mechanisms and costumes were employed. In reality, it was nothing but an opera with a religious theme... The words and the plot of Maddalena ai piedi di Christo are perfectly suited to these months of penitence. It is a drama of the moral breakdown that tortures the sinner who has to choose between worldly and heavenly love, between living a life of luxury and truly promising herself to Christ. The Le Banquet Céleste ensemble, led by Damien Guillon (who also sings the alto part of Divine Love), takes to this rare piece with fervour. © SM/Qobuz
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Classical - Released March 8, 2019 | Alpha Classics

Hi-Res Booklet
Following his recording of J. S. Bach’s solo cantatas for alto BWV 35 and 170 (issued in 2009), countertenor Damien Guillon has continued his work of research and interpretation, devoting a second album to the Cantata BWV 169 for alto solo and to the famous BWV 82 Ich habe genug ; though better known in its 1727 version for bass, from 1735 onwards it was also performed by an alto voice. To complement this cantata programme, organist Maude Gratton performs Bach’s Prelude and Fugue BWV 543, as well as the chorales Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 662, BWV 663 & BWV 664. © Alpha Classics