Louis XIV was 15 in 1653 when he took part in a lavishly staged ballet performed on seven evenings in the Salle du Petit-Bourbon at the Louvre Palace. It was engineered by his ministers as a clever piece of political propaganda to cement the divine authority of the monarch along with a centralised government after the unrest of the Fronde rebellions. The spectacle was remembered for decades after and gave Louis his title of “the Sun King”; the four “watches” of the night with some sinister post-midnight revelries culminated in a glorious dawn with the King strutting his stuff in a costume of glittering celestial glory.
Sébastien Daucé has spent three years recreating this work from fragments and disparate sources; a project of great scholarship, integrity and imagination. Amongst the anonymous dance tunes, and those of Jean de Cambefort, Daucé has interpolated airs du cour by Michel Lambert and Antoine Boësset, while scenes from Cavalli’s Ercole Amante and Rossi’s Orfeo have been added to remind us of the dominance of Italian opera in Parisian theatres before Lully. Ensemble Corespondances are superb exponents of this rarefied repertoire and the expansive forces of 18 voices and 33 instrumentalists deliver spine-tingling results.
Daucé’s singers are totally inside the style, pure of tone but with that essential French tang, and the players are superbly accomplished, bold and characterful. Listen to Dialogue des Trois Grâces; the three sopranos interweaving delicious suspensions, or the dark grotesqueries of the Choeur des Sacrificateurs, or the forthright drama of Cavalli’s Aria di Giunone – to name just a few moments from some two-and-a-half hours of delight. As expected from Harmonia Mundi the sound is vivid and upfront, the packaging is a stylish pleasure and the documentation a model of scholarly insight. This release is an essential acquisition for anyone with an interest in the early French Baroque and could be an early contender for 2016’s Recording of the Year.