Let's not waste time: get this for soprano Lucy Crowe's voice, for her performance of "What passion cannot Music raise", for her "The soft complaining flute"–and don't forget the glorious "But oh! What art can teach". Okay–just get this for the magnificent Crowe, whose golden, ringing tone and impeccable, uninhibited technique sets Handel's arias ablaze in vibrant, scintillating glory, relegating any recorded competition to second-class status. (Listen to that long-held, stratospheric note in the final chorus, on the words "The trumpet shall be heard on high"–on high, indeed; it seems like Crowe could have sustained it forever!) To sing Handel requires technical ease and comfort, range and unreserved explicatory ability–and in this, and in her complete habitation of the world of Handelian style Lucy Crowe is unsurpassed.
Hippolyte et Aricie was Rameau's first surviving lyric tragedy and is perhaps his most durable, though you wouldn't know it from the decades we had to wait for a modern recording. Now there are two: this one, conducted by Marc Minkowski, and William Christie's version on Erato. Choosing between the two is tough. Minkowski uses a smaller and probably more authentic orchestra, and with the resulting leaner sound, the performance has more of a quicksilver quality accentuated by Minkowski's penchant for swift tempos. His cast is excellent. The central lovers in the title are beautifully sung by two truly French voices, soprano Véronique Gens and especially the light, slightly nasal tenor of Jean-Paul Fourchécourt. In the pivotal role of the jealous Phèdre, Bernarda Fink is perfectly good but not in the exalted league of Christie's Lorraine Hunt. So there's no clear front-runner, but anyone interested in French Baroque opera must have at least one.–David Patrick Stearns
Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville, violinist of the royal chapel and just a bit younger than Rameau, is one of those French composers of the late Baroque generally relegated to the summary paragraph in historical surveys. His music is not terribly common on recordings, and the Brilliant label's resurrection of this late-'90s recording on Archiv, despite dreadful sound, is welcome.
The pastoral tragedy Acis et Galatée was Lully's last finished work, a three-act extravaganza complete with an opening Prologue, a closing Passacaglia, and assorted dances interspersed throughout. In the right performance, it is at once an inspiring work, a relaxing work, and even an entertaining work and this performance by the Choeurs des Musiciens du Louvre led by Marc Minkowski is surely the right performance.
Under the direction of the principal conductor and artistic director of the Salzburg Mozart Week, Mark Minkowski, the Musiciens du Louvre perform on two of Mozart’s original instruments. Mozart’s Violin Concerto and his Piano Concerto in A major are played on instruments that were once in the composer’s possession. Thibault Noally plays the Violin Concerto on a violin from the workshop of Pietro Antonio Dalla Costa and “conjures up Romantic brilliance from the well maintained instrument”, then Francesco Corti brings Mozart’s fortepiano to life again, thereby spreading “collective Mozart happiness all round” (Salzburger Nachrichten).
Handels operas are now so thoroughly a part of modern musical life that you might think every major opera house welcomes them. But until November 2010, when it introduced an absorbing new production of Alcina, the Vienna Staatsoper resisted them, not having done a Baroque opera since Monteverdis Poppea in the 1960s. The present production boasted an all-star cast of Baroque specialists, a former director of the Royal Shakespeare Company Adrian Noble, the highly-acclaimed conductor Marc Minkowski and his Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble in the pit. Adrian Noble places his Alcina into a framework which begins in the magnificent ballroom of the Devonshire-House in London Piccadilly. The legendary Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, stages a play in which she is acting together with her friends, a stage on the stage. Alcina is a great musical experience geared to the Baroque curiosity. Marc Minkowski revives Handels music in an outstanding way.
Ariodante is one of Handel's most consistently fine operas. Yes, yes, there are whole strings of da capo arias, but they are so dramatically apt and melodically interesting that things never get tiresome. Harmonia Mundi recently released a fine recording of this opera (conducted by Nicholas McGegan and starring "La Divina" Lorraine Hunt), yet this is even better. Anne Sofie Von Otter has, in recent years, sometimes oversung in Baroque music, but her tone here is ideal–heroic and powerful yet pure… There's not a weak link in the cast, and Mark Minkowski's conducting is consistently exciting. There is no better recording of a Handel opera out there. –Matthew Westphal
There are two different short operas (from 1754 and 1757) by Rameau with the title Anacréon. Both are one-act actes de ballet; this one was actually used as the third entrée of Rameau's opéra-ballet Les surprises de l'Amour when it was revived the same year. Both works have as their subject the Greek poet, Anacreon. The 1757 one - which was first performed at the Paris Opéra in May of that year and has a libretto by Pierre-Joseph Justin Bernard - has an only marginally less slight ‘plot’ than the earlier Anacréon. It follows an argument as to the relative merits of love and wine. That’s resolved in Anacreon’s favour by L’Amour; in fact, he believes the two are not incompatible.
"Though “Giulio Cesare” is the best known of Handel’s masterly operas, familiarity has not made it any easier to perform. Handel seized on the story of Caesar’s visit to Egypt in 48-47 B.C. as a chance to explore two often entwined human fascinations: politics and sex. If there are too many twists and improbabilities in the plot, the central characterizations are unvarnished and complex. The conductor Marc Minkowski’s vibrant recording with Les Musiciens du Louvre, a remarkable period-instrument ensemble from Paris, which captures a live performance in Vienna in 2002, may be the best overall."- Anthony Tommasini
This is an untouchably great performance of one of Handel's most interesting oratorios: its examination of jealousy is on a par with what can be found in Otello and Pelléas. There's drama galore–in fact, during its first run it was referred to as a "musical drama" (rather than an oratorio), and Handel and his librettist, Thomas Broughton, always referred to its "acts" rather than "parts", as sections of oratorios were commonly known.