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Julie Anne Sadie
This recording of La descente d’Orphée aux Enfers, Charpentier’s two-act operatic fragment dating from the mid-1680s, eloquently brings to life the circumstances of the first, private performance in the Paris townhouse of the Duchesse de Guise. Sébastien Daucé has replicated the forces indicated in the score. The rather more sumptuous-sounding staged performance mounted by the Boston Early Music Festival in 2013, issued on CPO the following year, employed only one extra singer and two oboes, played in turn by the recorder players.
Both recordings are vocally superb, though to my ear the singers of the Ensemble Correspondances have the edge, Caroline Arnaud’s performance in the role of Proserpina tipping the balance. Charpentier’s vocal ensembles, in particular, are enchantingly beautiful and the variety of ways in which he combines and contrasts them always supports the dramatic pacing.
Instrumentally, however, the polished forces of the BEMF deliver a more nuanced performance, such that even the purist will concede that the occasional use of oboes genuinely improves the ensemble sonority. It may, in fact, be a decision made in the recording studio that allowed Ensemble Correspondances’ recorders to sound quite so shrill. Tempo and phrasing are also at issue. The instrumental ritournelle in track 6 (reprised at the end of track 9) is taken at a fantastic lick that is at odds with the dramatic mood it is intended to support (quicker, too, than in the BEMF version). Elsewhere, especially in the passages for three bass viols associated with Orphée’s pleas for the return of Euridice, the phrasing is often foursquare; the interpretation of these passages by BEMF’s players offers a masterclass in how to contour the sound of the ensemble to the mood and quality of the voice of Orpheus.
By way of a petite reprise, let me affirm that both recordings are well worth owning and revisiting for the sheer delight of Charpentier’s music.
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