A previous reviewer, Kicek&Brys has written beautifully of this wonderful cd, and offered a great review. This cd, featuring "great operatic scenes" offers selected pieces from Lully's works for music theatre written during his role at the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Musical selections are from: Psyche L'Amour Medecin George Dandin Armide Les Plaisirs de L'Ile Enchantee Isis Ballet des Muses Roland
Les Arts Florissants, under William Christie play this music beautifully, empathetically and with a great consideration to Lully's own context. The voices and soloists are also brilliant. A great little booklet offers information on the pieces, as well as all the words and translations which is a nice touch. Definitely recommended.
Considering his historical importance as the founder of French Baroque opera, it is perhaps surprising that Jean-Baptiste Lully has not received the same degree of attention on disc as his rivals and followers. The revival of French Baroque music which has been such a phenomenon over the last two or three decades has only rarely paid him much attention. Listeners seem to find the harmonic daring of Marc-Antoine Charpentier or the incredible colour and imagination of Jean-Philippe Rameau far more to their taste. Lully's suave, well-crafted music is often dismissed as bland beside the music of these figures and that of Lully's English follower, Purcell. But as this well-filled (78 minutes) disc of extracts from the whole range of his stage music demonstrates, Lully was a considerable and innovative composer in his own right. If you are new to Lully, this is the ideal place to start. The new recording tells the story of how this ambitious, and frequently ruthless, young Florentine transformed himself into a French citizen and friend of "Le Roi Soleil", just as he transformed the Italian opera of the mid-seventeenth century into something uniquely Gallic. Lully began by catering to the young King Louis XIV's mania for dance with a series of comedies-ballets written in collaboration with Moliere. Extracts from two of them, "Georges Dandin" and "L'Amour Medecin" are included here, where the Italian influence is still strong with plenty of lively comedy. This phase of Lully's career culminated with the amazing five-hour extravaganza, "Psyche", in 1671. Two powerful choruses from this divertissement start the disc. It was while he was working on "Psyche" that Lully met the librettist Philippe Quinault who was to be his partner in forging a distinctively French form of opera, the 'tragedie lyrique'. Quinault's contribution was vitally important since Lully saw opera as an equal marriage of words and music. The key would be expressive recitative rather than the show arias that dominated the Italian 'opera seria' of the time. The chorus and ballet would also play a major part in the divertissements which ended each act, offering a chance for Lully to show off his musical imagination. Some of the best examples of this come in the extracts from the opera "Isis" (1677) included here. In fact the first audience found the music rather too imaginative and it soon acquired the reputation as a work for connoisseurs only, 'the musicians' opera'. One of the connoisseurs who appreciated it was Henry Purcell. The "Scene de Froid" inspired him to write the wonderfully atmospheric Frost Scene in his "King Arthur" (1691). You can hear immediately what appealed to the Englishman's imagination - the chattering chorus and shivering violins conjure up a vivid impression of extreme cold. It is quickly followed by a scene depicting blazing heat - the smithy of the Chalybes, where the ringing percussion suggests the music of Wagner's Nibelheim two hundred years later. But the most haunting music is a lament by the god Pan for the nymph Syrinx, after her transformation into a reed. It is touchingly accompanied by woodwind and an organ. The characteristic Lullian blend of words and music (which is possibly one reason why many non-French speaking Baroque enthusiasts find a whole Lully opera hard to listen to) is illustrated by scenes from "Armide" and "Roland". In the latter, the hero Roland searches for his lost love Angelique. Lully's music conjures up a beautiful pastoral scene using only smoothly sliding strings, becoming more and more troubled as Roland learns from the names carved into the trees that his beloved has married his rival, Medor. Finally, Roland explodes into rage, his anguish turns to madness and the music rages too. In "Armide", the eponymous heroine, a pagan sorceress, has lulled the Christian hero Renaud asleep so she can stab him to death. However, when she sees him lying defenceless, she falls in love with him and cannot bring herself to commit the murder. Armide's monologue included here, where she hesitates between hatred and love, has always been rightly regarded as one of the high points of the entire French repertoire with its masterly psychological depiction of the tortured enchantress. The disc ends with a love duet between Armide and Renaud from the final act of the opera, followed by another dance, the massive 'grande passecaille'. Its interweaving musical lines have an extraordinary, hypnotic beauty. Christie's staging and recording of the opera "Atys" is widely considered one of the landmarks in the revival of Lully and this new disc is generally very well performed. My one quibble is with Rinat Shaham who takes the part of Armide - her voice is not really powerful enough to suggest the mighty sorceress, especially when compared with Guillemette Laurens who took the role in the complete recording under Philippe Herreweghe. But otherwise, highly recommended, especially to those who have yet to appreciate Lully's considerable musical gifts. (Brys)
This year we had to study Lully as part of a course in the beginnings of Opera. And Lully, with his monopoly on musical entertainment in the French court, and by extension the whole of France, created a French version of Opera that favoured a highly accented and declamatory recitative following the dramatic pronunciations of famous French actors and actresses at the time.
To be honest, I do not find Lully's music very interesting - I once tried to sit through a whole Lully opera on the radio and by the middle I wanted to die. This CD then, which brings together the finest musical scenes from his operas, is perfect. Wonderfully performed in energetic and 'authentic' Baroque style by the renowned Les Arts Florissants, it brings the music to life. I've given the CD four stars rather than five just because of the music, not the performance.
Notable for me was the chorus from Isis, 'L'Hiver Qui Nous Tourment', which probably inspired the very similar 'See, see we assemble' chorus from Purcell's dramatick opera King Arthur, also available on a brilliant recording from Les Arts Florissants (Purcell: King Arthur).
If you hear people talk about Lully but don't know what the heck they're on about (like me), then buy this CD and your self-improvement will I'm sure pay dividends. This recording is also really useful for students who need some examples for their course, and final exam, as the CD liner notes have the libretto from each of the opera scenes.
If on a first listen, you do find yourself tiring of the music on this CD, give it time and listen to individual snippets. Just think what it would have been like had you bought a whole Lullian opera!