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Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016

The second instalment of Les Arts Florissants’s Monteverdi Madrigals series maintains the high standard set by the first

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p h o t o g r a p h y perhaps the label’s decision to issue the latter first. I reviewed that volume very enthusiastically in January, praising its cohesion and spontaneity, the sense of risktaking without a safety net. One might say the same of this one: in several places, particularly in Book 1, the music is taken by the scruff of the neck, the beat accelerating to the point where one anticipates things coming unstuck (try the ‘thousand burning flames’ of ‘Questa ordì il laccio’, or the lover’s ‘demented words’ in ‘Arsi e alsi à mia voglia’, the contrariposta to ‘Ardo sì ma non t’amo’). Agnew’s selection from the next two books is as astute as before, and includes the ‘mini-cycle’ that concludes Book 3. I particularly enjoyed the breathless depiction of the hunt in ‘S’andasse Amor à caccia’ and the contrastingly leisurely progress of ‘Ecco mormorar l’onde’. Monteverdi completists will note the lack of competing accounts of Books 1 and 3 from Concerto Italiano, while Book 2 boasts comparably fine readings by both them and La Venexiana. Either way, this ‘pocket cycle’ from Les Arts Florissants deserves a space on the shelf next to them. That these are live perfomances, and in a relatively dry though not unflattering acoustic, contributes to the sense of spontaneity. It also accounts for the odd stutter, which repeated listening, however, doesn’t aggravate. As with the previous volume, packaging, presentation and accompanying essays are respectively handsome, clear and illuminating. One is torn between regret that there is to be only one further volume, and anticipation at what it might bring. Fabrice Fitch

‘Le Concert Royal de la Nuit’ after ‘Ballet Royal de la Nuit’, with music by Jean de Cambefort, Antoine Boësset, Louis Constantin, Michel Lambert, Francesco Cavalli, Luigi Rossi and Anonymous Ensemble Correspondances / Sébastien Daucé Harmonia Mundi F b HMC95 2223/4 (153’ • DDD • T/t)

On the evening of February 23, 1653, the Ballet Royal de la Nuit was performed at the Louvre for the 15-year-old Louis XIV, who had recently stabilised his unsteady position on the throne after the Fronde civil wars. The lavish entertainment was organised by the poet Isaac de Bensérade into four parts described as veilles (‘watches’), each representing a period of the night; it culminated in a grand ballet during which the young king himself danced as Apollo (ie the Sun King) banishing the spectre of gloomy night as dawn arrived – a political allegory for the crushing of the rebellion which nobody could have misunderstood.

Sébastien Daucé has designed a selective exposition of the musical dimension of the multifaceted Ballet de la Nuit. Vocal music by Jean de Cambefort includes a spellbinding solo for Night that begins the first veille (the alto soloist Lucile Richardot is accompanied sensuously by a consort of viols) and a hushed dialogue for Sleep and Silence that commences the fourth veille

(sung delicately by bass Etienne Bazola and soprano Caroline Bardot). Ensemble Correspondances play about two-thirds of the original 1653 dances, reconstructed expertly by Daucé from a manuscript first violin part copied nearly 40 years after the production. It is likely some instrumental music was written by members of the illustrious Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi, although one wonders if any anonymous bits might be the handiwork of the 20‑year-old Lully (who danced five roles in the Ballet de la Nuit). His future father-inlaw Michel Lambert is the composer of a dialogue sung sweetly by three uncredited Graces.

Daucé invokes the privilege of creative licence with the interpolation of numerous extracts from operas by Italians invited to Paris by Cardinal Mazarin during the early years of the Sun King’s reign. The bulk of the third veille is compiled from Cavalli’s Ercole amante (1662) and the fourth veille draws from Rossi’s Orfeo (1647), including a beguiling Passacaille that seamlessly follows on from two lyrical airs by Antoine Boësset. A rotating team of up to 52 musicians traverse the musical spectrum from whispered intimacy to jovial ceremony. My only quibble is that the diverse authorship of the music could have been cited more helpfully in Harmonia Mundi’s libretto instead of the reader having to jump back and forth to abbreviations in the track-listing, but the copiously illustrated hardback book provides plenty of fascinating material to mull over. David Vickers

10 GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2016

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