... and all my many highly esteemed falsettist friends, but I don't think you can match this performance by the diminutive Sandrine Piau, not at this repertoire at least, neither the muscular tenderness of her voice nor the gamut of her technique. The repertoire here is pure French, France's greatest musical era, from Lully (1632-1687) to Grétry (1741-1813) by way of Charpentier, Campra, Rameau, Rebel and Favart, and I've never heard it sung more triumphantly. I suppose it's invidious to compare the art of counter-tenors to that of the paragon of women, but that's what rose to the surface of my mind as I listened to this CD. Only Philippe Jaroussky, among male sopranos, can equal Piau's technical virtuosity and even he can't approach her palette of expressive timbres.
The eleven arias of this program explore all the nuances of Love as dramatized in French baroque opera, from virginal rapture to jealous rage to disdain and despair, but there's nothing precieuse about the performance. Conductor Jéróme Correas doesn't hear it that way. His tempi are brisk and resolute, and his orchestra - Les Paladins - is a robust 'force majeure' of nine violins, three violas, four basses, plus two each of oboes, flutes and horns. If you've previously found "French Baroque" emotionally too delicate, this is the performance that might change your impression. The two instrumental tracks -- the ouverture to François Rebel's 'Scanderberg' and the dance suite from Jean-Philppe Rameau's 'Fêtes de Ramire" -- are as rambunctious as any Italian or German works of the same era. Correas is an alumnus of William Christie's ensemble Les Arts Florissants and of Christophe Rousset's Les Talens Lyriques. I have to wonder whether his distinctly forceful style, not unlike that of Emmanuelle Haim, represents a new wave of Baroque interpretation. Certainly I would love to hear Les Paladins under his baton in the pit for a staging of a French opera seria.
This recording was made last October (2011) at La Fondation Royaumont, housed in the grand Abbey Royaumont in Asnières-sur-Oise, near Senlis north of Paris. I'll be there myself, this October 2012. It's worth informing yourself, as a musician and/or as a tourist, about the year-round activities of the Foundation, which offers an on-line newsletter in French. The region of Oise features such wonders as the gothic cathedral of Senlis and the national forest of Chantilly.