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Classical - Released May 19, 2017 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or - 4F de Télérama - Gramophone Editor's Choice - Choc de Classica - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Klassik - Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik
What was the context in which so great a masterpiece such as Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo could be born back in 1607, invested with such beauty, endowed with such profundity of expression and so perfect a structure, at a time when the operatic form was still in its infancy? These are precisely the questions that lie at the origin of this recording project, giving Pichon and his musicians the opportunity to discover the astonishing musico-dramatic productions that preceded L’Orfeo, notably those performed at the Medici court in Florence, in which one may discern the seeds of numerous elements to be found in L’Orfeo. At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, it was ovbviously the city of the Medici that was the main focus of one of the most fascinating moments in the history of music: the birth of opera. Concentrating on the years from 1589 to 1611, i.e. the premiere of the intermedi for theatre piece called La pellegrina at one end and the performance in Florence of Marco da Gagliano’s Dafne at the other, Pichon has devised four imaginary “interludes” – inspired by the form of the intermedio so popular at this period – in which he assembled some of the finest examples of the first stirrings of opera, the music pieces of which are signed Lorenzo Allegri, Antonio Brunelli, Giovanni Battista Buonamente, Giulio Caccini, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, Girolamo Fantini, Marco da Gagliano, Cristofano Malvezzi, Luca Marenzio, Alessandro Orologio, Jacopo Peri and Alessandro Striggio. In imitation of the ancient theatre, intermedi were entertainments inserted between the acts of plays, with sumptuous visual effects, which provided a pretext for allegories to the glory of the reigning dynasty. The place of music and the fantastic element in theatrical performances acquired an ever grander and more spectacular character, thanks notably to the genius of set designers and the progress made in the domain of stage machinery. Seeing the artistic and political potential of the genre, the powerful princely families of the northern half of Italy (Gonzagas, Este and Medici, as well as the papal court), encouraged its development. Intermedi ended up occupying so important a place that they became a show within the show, with the aim of dazzling the audience. It was in 1589 that the Florentine tradition of intermedi attained its zenith, with the six sumptuous entertainments devised by Count Bardi to accompany the comedy La pellegrina, performed on the occasion of the wedding of Grand Duke Ferdinando I and Princess Christina of Lorraine, grand-daughter of Catarina de’ Medici. In their variety and novelty, with a balanced combination of polyphony and the nascent monody, not forgetting instrumental and dance music, the intermedi of 1589 opened the way for an integrally sung form of theatre. And indeed it was once again Florence that witnessed the first examples of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the perfect model of the alliance between poetry and music. At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, a veritable laboratory was set up in Florence, prompting poets and composers to bring together several forms of musical expression in a single place? Building on the models established by earlier generations, composers continued their experiments with sound-space and the spatialisation of music, what with the proliferation of echo effects in the early monodies, or madrigals featuring dialogues between as many as seven independent choirs. But how can one tell this story nowadays, revive this rich adventure? The solution chosen for this recording was to create from scratch a large-scale imaginary work, resembling an initiatory journey, that would weld these multiple works into a single whole.
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Opera Extracts - Released February 23, 2018 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Gramophone Editor's Choice - Diamant d'Opéra - Choc de Classica - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Klassik
With his ensemble Pygmalion, Raphaël Pichon has written the listing for this album in the form of a "pastiche" of a Mass for the Dead, a Requiem both sacred and profane. While it is a long way from having all the defining traits, it does possess all the outlines: Introit, Kyrie, Gradual, Sequence, Offertory, In Paradisum... The idea came about after a recent discovery, in the Bibliothèque Nationale of an anonymous requiem mass from the 18th century, in which the writer constructed a "parody" based on musical extracts from Castor and Pollux and the Fêtes de Paphos by Jean-Philippe Rameau. Note that the term "parody" doesn't necessarily imply satire or mockery: it refers to the practice of taking up older music and setting new words to it. This fusion of sacred music (the mass) and profane music (lyrical tragedy), a common practice during the Enlightenment, was a procedure that Pichon wanted to take up. In French society at the time, when Catholicism was the norm, where the political system was monarchical rule by divine right, the representation of ancient pagan Hell on theatrical stages seemed to betray a fascination in the beliefs of the ancients. And so this programme melds together pagan fable with a Christian imaginary, where Hell takes on different faces. It is the place of unjust and eternal torment, a place of privation where a couple is separated, one half kept in Hades. But, in the lyrical tragedy, Hell is also a place of perdition: obscure forces unleashed in Sabbath rites, a Satanic vision which unearths the darkest depths of the human soul... Stéphane Degout is the author of this tragedy, bringing together such varied characters as Phaedra, Pluto, and the Parcae. The composers whose music is put to use are Rameau and Gluck, with a single borrowing from Rebel: it would have been a shame not to mention his singular Chaos (taken from Éléments), which starts with a dissonant chord containing the seven notes of the scale of D minor. © SM/Qobuz
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Vocal Music (Secular and Sacred) - Released March 18, 2016 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 4 étoiles Classica - Exceptional Sound Recording - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Klassik
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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released October 6, 2014 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Choc de Classica
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Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released September 20, 2010 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Gramophone Editor's Choice - Hi-Res Audio
This is one of a pair of albums devoted to Bach's Missa Brevis settings by French ensemble Pygmalion. Both are strongly recommended. These settings, with Kyrie and Gloria only, were repurposed by Bach from various earlier works, mostly cantatas; they're not among his unquestioned monuments, but they do bespeak his genius. The presentation here by France's Alpha label is compelling. The label packages works from the 16th to the 19th centuries inside high-quality reproductions of paintings that related to the given music in some way, explained by an art-historical essay. Here the painting is The Sermon of Saint John the Baptist by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, of 1566; it is not chronologically matched to Bach, but the correspondences are nevertheless fascinating. Both drew religious scenes out of the cultural materials of ordinary folk. And both were, in the words of essayist Denis Grenier, "ecumentical": Bach was a Protestant who was at the very least influenced by styles of Catholic regions and wrote Latin masses, while Brueghel lived in the Catholic-controlled Habsburg Netherlands but depicted religious events in the down-to-earth way that would emerge under Protestant belief systems. The appeal of the music lies partly in the ways Bach adapts Protestant cantatas for the Catholic mass. The Gloria in excelsis movement of the Missa Brevis in G major, BWV 236, is based on the opening chorus of the Cantata No. 79, "Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild" (God the Lord is Sun and Shield), BWV 79: not a total stretch, but also not precisely the same thought, and Bach reworks the music rather than simply resetting it. Similar processes occur in several other movements, and they're fascinating for those well acquainted with Bach's choral music. The general listener may prefer to simply luxuriate in Pygmalion's coolly elegant sound, in the singing of a consistently strong group of soloists headed by soprano Eugénie Warnier, and in the superb Kyries of both masses, each embodying Bach's contrapuntal perfection on a modest scale. The program is rounded out by a short work sometimes known as a cantata but designated by Bach himself as a motet: O Jesu Christ, meins lebens Licht, BWV 118, a funeral work with two parts written for instruments designed by Bach with the name lituus. The booklet goes into a good detail about efforts to decide just what these were supposed to be; the players make the unadventuresome choice of a pair of oboes, but the musical execution is gorgeous. An exceptional Bach release. © TiVo
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Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released August 28, 2008 | Alpha

Distinctions Diapason découverte - 9 de Classica-Répertoire
In the marvelous packaging of this French release one can read an in-depth analysis of the rather grim painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder reproduced on the cover, complete with fascinating detours into such topics as the sexual significance of the mussels in the painting. The intended connection is a certain endlessness of invention common to both creators. There isn't a word, however, about the choral-orchestral ensemble Pygmalion, oddly enough named especially in a French context (and they are apparently French). Whoever they are, they're superb. Bach's four Missa Brevis settings, as the booklet points out, have historically suffered in terms of prestige because they mostly consist of "parody" movements or recycled vocal movements fitted out with new texts, in this case those of the Kyrie and Gloria of the mass. Most of the sources are sections of cantatas. For the listener, however, this means very little beyond a tendency toward long instrumental introductions to many of the movements. The Pygmalion choir delivers a superior example of the warm, sensuous French approach to Bach; the instrumentalists achieve perfect ensemble with their Baroque bows and strings. Best of all are the soloists, heard in the inner sections of the subdivided Gloria. All have distinctive voices perfectly proportioned to the size of the music, and that of alto Magid El-Bushra is worth sampling just for its unusual, almost boy-soprano grain (hear the Domine fili movement of the Missa Brevis in G minor, BWV 235, track 5). The sound reveals very small details of the playing and conveys real presence of the musicians without placing the listener unnaturally close. The only complaint is that the program is rather short; the two masses could have been bookended with short pieces instead of just introduced with another unusual Bach reworking, this one of a motet by Kuhnau. In all, a recording of choice for some of Bach's lesser known choral music. © TiVo
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Opera - Released August 30, 2019 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklets Distinctions Choc de Classica
A challenge. This is a disorienting, provocative, and terribly refreshing album. Before launching headlong into the "Da Ponte-Mozart Trilogy", Raphaël Pichon undertakes a spirited exploration of the themes, throwing all these pieces together into a three-part "pasticcio", with the help of Mozart's earlier works and those of his contemporaries. To do this, Pichon and his arrangers use concert arias, nocturnes, canons, unfinished operas with characters and situations that evoke those of the trilogy. They have thrown together a delicious miniature trilogy "like a sort of musical apéritif." The result is all the more pleasing because it allows us to follow the evolution of Mozart's thought, at the same time as underlining the continuity of his literary choices and situations that he would set to music throughout his short life. Add that to some lively conducting and soloists who have great fun prefiguring the coming masterpieces. The result is a real gourmet feast. © François Hudry/Qobuz
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Full Operas - Released April 27, 2015 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama
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Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released August 28, 2008 | Alpha

Booklet Distinctions 4 étoiles Classica
In the marvelous packaging of this French release one can read an in-depth analysis of the rather grim painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder reproduced on the cover, complete with fascinating detours into such topics as the sexual significance of the mussels in the painting. The intended connection is a certain endlessness of invention common to both creators. There isn't a word, however, about the choral-orchestral ensemble Pygmalion, oddly enough named especially in a French context (and they are apparently French). Whoever they are, they're superb. Bach's four Missa Brevis settings, as the booklet points out, have historically suffered in terms of prestige because they mostly consist of "parody" movements or recycled vocal movements fitted out with new texts, in this case those of the Kyrie and Gloria of the mass. Most of the sources are sections of cantatas. For the listener, however, this means very little beyond a tendency toward long instrumental introductions to many of the movements. The Pygmalion choir delivers a superior example of the warm, sensuous French approach to Bach; the instrumentalists achieve perfect ensemble with their Baroque bows and strings. Best of all are the soloists, heard in the inner sections of the subdivided Gloria. All have distinctive voices perfectly proportioned to the size of the music, and that of alto Magid El-Bushra is worth sampling just for its unusual, almost boy-soprano grain (hear the Domine fili movement of the Missa Brevis in G minor, BWV 235, track 5). The sound reveals very small details of the playing and conveys real presence of the musicians without placing the listener unnaturally close. The only complaint is that the program is rather short; the two masses could have been bookended with short pieces instead of just introduced with another unusual Bach reworking, this one of a motet by Kuhnau. In all, a recording of choice for some of Bach's lesser known choral music. © TiVo
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Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released September 24, 2013 | Alpha

Booklet