Baroque opera fans owe a debt of gratitude to Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs of Boston Early Music Festival, America’s leading light when it comes to the rediscovery of hidden gems, particularly of the French Baroque. From stellar recordings of Lully and Charpentier, they now turn their attention to Michel-Richard Delalande (1657–1726), a less familiar composer, perhaps, but one who in his day enjoyed considerable success and, importantly for him, aristocratic patronage.
The short pastorale Les Fontaines de Versailles came hot on the heels of a privately performed lost work in which many of the young nobles of the day took part. It was written for the royal court in 1683 and appears to have won Delalande a coveted position as one of Louis XIV’s “sous-maître de Chapelle”. It’s a sprightly affair, if slight of plot and exceptionally fawning even by the standards of the day. An array of gods and goddesses acclaim the Sun King’s arrival in Versailles declaring in turn their subservience to Louis’s puissant power. Along the way they comment with particular enthusiasm on Louis’ keen interest in the royal gardens and their famously hydraulic fountains, which are duly called upon to go off in the final bubbly chorus.
Musically there’s a lovely lilting duet with pastoral bassoon for Flora and Latona (mother of Apollo), a series of sensuous symphonies for flutes and violins, a highly Purcellian minuet for Flora (the graceful soprano Molly Netter), and a wonderfully sprung Chaconne. Equally enjoyable is the energetic arrival of resonant baritone John Taylor Ward as Enceladus, the lava-spewing giant trapped beneath Mount Etna, who deserts his Mediterranean domain keen to power the Sun King’s fountains, and seductive-toned tenor Brian Giebler who is stylish as a surprisingly lyrical Bacchus.
The disc also contains the magnificent Grande Pièce en G-ré-sol, one of Delalande’s Symphonies pour les Soupers du Royand hence designed to be trotted out during the monarch’s evening meal. It’s charming and accomplished stuff, deliberately designed with built in variety since the ceremonial arrival of each dish was meant to be accompanied by a specific piece of music.
The disc concludes with Le Concert D’Esculape, a brief celebration of the return to health of a royal personage, in this case likely the Dauphine. As a cantata in praise of Aesculapius, the God of Health, it’s nice enough, but it lacks the inner fire of Les Fontaines or the Grande Pièce which makes it feel a bit of a makeweight.
Stubbs and O’Dette lead a beautifully finessed orchestral reading, most naturally engineered, and with fascinating booklet notes. Lovers of the French Baroque need not hesitate.
Works: Les Fontaines De Versailles, Le Concert D’Esculape
Performers: Boston Early Music Festival/Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs
Label: CPO 5550972