France's Ensemble Correspondances and its director, Sébastien Daucé, have created acclaimed recordings and performances that explore the sumptuous French choral repertory of the 17th and 18th centuries. Much of its music is newly unearthed, and the group's appeal lies partly in how it presents fully realized performances of music of which its audiences had previously been completely unaware. Daucé, the founder and artistic director (a student of Françoise Lengellé and Yves Rechsteiner), met other members of the group when all were studying at the National Conservatory of Lyon, France. The students joined forces in 2009 as Ensemble Correspondances, using their access to libraries to uncover works that, in many cases, had not yet been published and, to quote the group, were "just waiting to be revived by young and passionate musicians." The ensemble wasted little time in issuing its first album, O Maria, which was devoted to the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Issued by the Belgian label Zig Zag Territoires, the album garnered favorable debut distinctions from such publications as Diapason and Fonoforum. Its sophomore release, L'Archange et le Lys, explored the sacred music of the almost unknown ancien régime composer Antoine Boësset and won similarly positive notices. The group toured Colombia in 2012, and the following year it was signed to Harmonia Mundi; its debut for that label, a recording of Charpentier's Litanies de la Vierge, propelled it to a series of European festival appearances in 2014 and to a second album, Etienne Moulinié: The Meslanges pour la Chapelle d'un Prince. It recorded the Leçons de Ténebres of Michel-Richard de Lalande with soprano Sophie Kärthäuser in 2015; this too was widely hailed as an important act of rediscovery. Ensemble Correspondances gained French government support in 2016 and released the album O Mysterium, covering motets written by Henry du Mont for Louis XIV. It also issued a holiday album, Pastorale de Noël, featuring Christmas music of Charpentier beyond the usual, well-known examples. The year 2017 saw Ensemble Correspondances make its Asian (Hong Kong) and North American debuts, and its 2018 concert schedule included appearances at churches and halls in Lyon, Arles, Versailles, Katowice, and London. ~ James Manheim
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Classical - Released November 16, 2018 | harmonia mundi
The famous Ballet Royal de la Nuit, danced on by Louis XIV when he was fifteen years old, was performed at the Louvre in 1653 over seven evenings. It was a complete success: Mazarin, back from exile after the Fronde, wanted to make an impact with this ballet he had conducted himself: the goal was to impose respect for the aristocracy, impress Parisians, and spread the royal message through the ambassadors. Without a doubt, the Ballet Royal de la Nuit was one of the most striking spectacles of Louis XIV’s reign, on many levels: politically, institutionally, aesthetically, and musically. For the first time, a score had been built around four parts and a final ballet with everything working towards the same objective: staging a sunrise. The King himself danced, as well as his brother and several Dukes. Characters, scenes, decors and costumes perfectly encapsulate the Great Century. Each verse alternates between whimsical, serious, comic, burlesque, mythological, and Romanesque. As previously mentioned the objective is to impose a royal figure above all others, whilst creating a never seen proximity between the monarch and his subjects. With each part, ladies of the court, hunters, gods, bandits, cripples, soldiers, Egyptians, etc. coexist freely. The show highlights everything that goes on at night, when the good people are asleep. The message is clear: ”The Sun that follows me is the young Louis!”, and yet, after 1653, the Ballet Royal de la Nuit was never performed again. On top of this, the ballets partition – authored by several composers as it was a collective work – was lost with the exception of the first violin part, copied by Philidor a few decades later. However, the vocal music was retrieved, as well as the score. The work had to be pieced back together, a colossal task: this is a “pastiche” in the historic meaning of the word, but fantastically convincing. The excellent accompanying booklet for this wonderful recording by Sébastien Daucé and his Correspondances Ensemble cites all the sources that were used for the reconstitution. © SM/Qobuz
Classical - Released August 25, 2017 | harmonia mundi
Marc-Antoine Charpentier always had an ambiguous relationship with opera. While living in Rome in the late 1660s he had a chance to familiarise himself with this fast-expanding vocal genre. When he returned to Paris, some time around 1670, he was able to witness the creation of the Académie Royale de Musique, followed by the birth of the tragédie en musique, that typically French genre elaborated by Jean-Baptiste Lully over a lengthy period. Although his functions with his new patrons, particularly the Jesuits and the Grand Dauphin, tended to push him in the direction of sacred music, Charpentier was often tempted to write operatic works. Unfortunately, like all his contemporaries, he came up against the hegemony of the jealous Lully, who ensured the doors of the Opéra remained closed to him. It was not until 1693, six years after the Lully’s death, that he finally gained access to that institution; his only tragédie en musique, Médée, was a failure - deemed too dense, too learned. Yet Charpentier’s attraction for musical theatre may be observed throughout his career, in the numerous scores of incidental music, his two biblical tragedies intended for the Jesuit colleges, and above all the divertissements. Charpentier’s divertissements are on a small scale (a few scenes or else short one-act pieces) and conceived for relatively modest forces. Their inspiration is mythological, allegorical or heroic; they mingle light-hearted and dramatic elements. In all these respects, they owe a great deal to the genre of the pastorale en musique, the earliest specimens of which contributed to the rise of French opera. Alongside his motets and histoires sacrées in Latin intended for the devotions of the princess, Charpentier invented for her more secular recreations, small vocal forms sung in French, genuine miniature operas tailor-made for the little company of musicians she maintained at her Parisian town house. These chamber operas, marginal in comparison to the large-scale tragédie en musique cultivated by Lully, occupy a highly individual place in the late seventeenth-century musical landscape. The last short opera Charpentier wrote for the princess, La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers (late 1686-early 1687), constitutes in its breadth and dramatic density a little gem of seventeenth-century French vocal art. References to the myth of the shepherd musician are rare in French literature at that time. Only two eponymous tragedies had appeared before Charpentier’s little opera. In the domain of music, the French usually depicted Orpheus merely in his persona as a player of the lyre, in which he appears in several ballets de cour. Charpentier was therefore one of the first French composers to take up the myth in its full dimensions. He had already produced a version of it in 1683, in a short divertissement called Orphée descendant aux Enfers, which may be regarded as the earliest example of the French cantata, another miniature vocal genre that was to flourish in the aristocratic gatherings of the early eighteenth century. Conceived on a larger scale, La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers unfolds over two acts. The first installs the listener in the bucolic universe typical of the pastorale, peopled by nymphs who have come to celebrate with carefree joy the wedding of Eurydice with the shepherd Orpheus. But Eurydice is mortally wounded by a serpent, and soon sees her strength ebbing away. Her sudden death leaves her companions and Orpheus distraught and tearful. Then Apollo convinces his son to go to beseech Pluto, and try to make him yield to the power of his songs. The more extended Act Two retraces Orpheus’ difficult quest through the Underworld, where he charms first of all the damned souls, in the hope of bringing Eurydice back with him. Charpentier’s manuscript stops at the point when Orpheus commences his journey back to the light, leaving the denizens of the Underworld in despair at his departure. One may therefore surmise that the work, which thus sets only part of the myth, has come down to us incomplete, or that the composer left it unfinished. It is true that the autograph manuscript exhibits none of the conclusive gestures he often uses. But why not, on the contrary, envisage the hypothesis that Charpentier consciously crafted this conclusion, which leaves the myth in suspense, without the edifying moral resolution which the litterati of the time were generally so fond of. For the work does possess a genuine musical conclusion, in the yearning Sarabande légère danced by the Shades deploring the departure of Orpheus, who leaves them only “so sweet a memory” of his songs. If this ending is indeed deliberate, the work assumes a particular emphasis and may be read as an optimistic interpretation of the myth, which is considered more as an allegory of the union of body and soul. A symbol of the fragility of humanity, but also of its ability to surpass itself in defiance of the ineluctable laws of nature, Charpentier’s Orpheus thus embodies the full creative force that the power of love can elicit, and, finally, in a humanistic ideal, also represents the perfection that the human soul can attain through art.
Classical - Released October 29, 2016 | harmonia mundi
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