Originating by way of an Aix-En-Provence Festival staging, William Christie and his Arts Florissants bring dramatic flair and musical panache to Mozart's great late Singspiel in equal measure. To begin with, there's a dream cast led by the alluring pairing of Hans Peter Blochwitz as Tamino and Rosa Mannion as Pamina. Anton Scharinger makes for an earthy Papageno, Reinhard Hagen is a commanding Sarastro, whilst Natalie Dessay's input as Queen of the Night comes over in both her showpiece arias as steadfast and electrifying. The casting in depth continues: rare is a Magic Flute that can boast singers of the calibre of Willard White and Linda Kitchen in the relatively small roles of Speaker and Papagena. Then, the uniformly warm vocal blend is homogeneously matched, note for note, with the gut strings and less aggressive winds of Les Arts Florissants. Not that there's anything limp or lacklustre about Christie's brisk tempi; whilst sharp editing maintains the theatrical urgency. The melliflously played "magic" flute and exact keyed glockenspiel input for Papageno's bells are further examples of the care which has gone into this state of the art "authentic" interpretation. With a work like The Magic Flute, recorded choices are voluminous. Neville Marriner with his Academy of St Martins-in-the-Fields on Phillips puts in a brave showing, but William Christie maybe wins out in a thorough interpretation which simultaneously celebrates the opera's joy and mystery. –Duncan Hadfield
It was only a matter of time before William Christie got around to recording Mozart's delightful 1782 singspiel, and the results are very happy indeed. Period instruments are just right for the raucous "Turkish" music Mozart composed for Entführung, and they go very nicely with the light voices Christie has chosen as well. Most successful is the Belmonte of tenor Ian Bostridge, already famous for his lieder singing.
While Freemasonry's secrecy has always aroused distrust, its enlightened principles and belief in virtue, liberty, fraternity, and equality have attracted large numbers of intellectuals and artists; one of its most famous adherents was Mozart. However, his opera The Magic Flute was not the first to be inspired by its teachings but was preceded in 1749 by Rameau's Zoroastre. Its initial reception was so cool that Rameau and his librettist, Louis de Cahusac (a prominent Mason) undertook extensive revisions. The new version was produced–by coincidence or fate?–in 1756, the year of Mozart's birth, and became a great success.
Recorded at the Cité de la Musique during the complete cycle of Monteverdi madrigals mounted in partnership with the Philharmonie de Paris and the Théâtre de Caen, the last volume in our trilogy probably contains the best-loved gems of a composer who had become maestro di cappella at St Mark’s in Venice, and finally entered the priesthood. Alongside the great operas that have survived from this period, the final madrigals methodically explore the multiple possibilities offered by the rapidly developing practice of basso continuo and by an unprecedented exploitation of solo voices. And, in that respect, the celebrated 'Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda' forms a spectacular finale to our Monteverdian adventure!
Rossi's Oratorio per la Settimana Santa is a masterpiece of the period. Its unusual representation of the Crucifixion draws on elements of both the Passion and the Stabat mater traditions. It also includes an almost operatic scene that vividly depicts a descent into Hades. Its moralistic intent was to move the listener through compassion to repentance. This striking recording from William Christie and the ensemble Les Arts Florissants was originally released in 1989.
Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is one of the very few 17th-century works to have entered the operatic "canon" and developed a modern performance tradition before the late 20th century's early-music revival. For listeners who had grown fond of this opera in its "traditional" form, the period-instrument recordings of recent years have provided some odd surprises: an all-female cast (excepting Aeneas); a baritone Sorceress; singing in a style closer to a Restoration playhouse than Covent Garden.
Released in 1995, this Harmonia Mundi CD of five of Handel's Concerti grossi, Op. 6, is an absolute bargain and highly recommended to any lover of great music. Considering William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are among the most brilliant interpreters of Handel, that these gorgeous works afforded them an ideal platform for their talents, and that Harmonia Mundi provided the best possible engineering to capture their glorious sound, this album is an embarrassment of riches not to be missed.
The Sicilian nobleman Sigismondo d'India was roughly contemporary with Monteverdi (both began their careers around 1600); the musical ferment of that period led, in d'India's case, to a very heady brew. His madrigals–duets, solos and five-voice works–are like inebriated Monteverdi: d'India set the Italian poetic texts (usually dealing with a lover's pain) with even less regard for academic counterpoint and even more surprising twists of harmony than did his more-famous colleague, yet the music never veers into the disorienting, seemingly willful weirdness of Gesualdo.
Is it fair to say that most born Frenchmen have considered themselves exceedingly fortunate in their nativity? Moi? I didn't enjoy such luck. Neither did Jean-Baptiste Lully, the favorite of Louis XIV and thus the tyrant of French music for thirty-four years. Lully was born in Florence in 1632, but carried to France as a youthful Ganymede; he entered the service of the Sun King in 1653 as a dancer, and he rose to a position of monopoly influence in Louis XIV's court despite his flagrant debauchery and libertine sexuality. Just as Louis declared, that 'he was the State,' Lully could well have said "French Music, it's me!"