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Briefly Noted: Une fête baroque

available at Amazon
Une fête baroque, N. Dessay, A. S. von Otter, S. Degout, P. Petibon, T. Lehtipuu, P. Jaroussky, S. Piau, R. Villazón, Le Concert d'Astrée, E. Haïm

(released on March 13, 2012)
Virgin 730799 2 | 154'11"
This past December, Emmanuelle Haïm celebrated the 10-year anniversary of her historically informed performance ensemble, Le Concert d'Astrée. As a retrospective of the composers who have provided their greatest successes -- Rameau, Lully, Purcell, and especially Handel -- Haïm led a gala concert at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, with a starry list of the singers who have worked with her over the last decade. Some excerpts from the concert were shown on in a Christmas Day broadcast on French television (see embedded video below), and this 2-CD set is the result of the live recording made in Paris. The thrill of this sort of event, with so many different singers, including many leading voices, performing only one or a few pieces is that all can throw themselves into their performances without worrying so much about safeguarding some vocal strength over the course of an entire operatic role. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is not the big guns that fire loudest: Natalie Dessay's Cleopatra, Philippe Jaroussky's Rinaldo, Anne Sofie von Otter's Phèdre, least of all R. Villazón's Bajazet.

Standout performances come from less expected places, like soprano Jaël Azzaretti in a high-flying avian duet with Alexis Kossenko on traverso in "Rossignols amoureux" or horn players with serious chops in the hunting aria "A la chasse," both from Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie. Ann Hallenberg adds extensive embellishments throughout "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Handel's Rinaldo, extending the harmony until it almost sounds like Fauré. Patricia Petibon performs a nutty La Folie, from Platée, driven mad by the sound of a portable (a brief spoken introduction, in which a cellphone rings on stage, is at the beginning of the track), adds all sorts of crazy ornaments. Sandrine Piau is plangent of tone in a beautiful rendition of "Piangerò la sorte mia" from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, again with affecting additions to the melodic line on the reprise of the A section. The only drawbacks of the live format are the amount of applause captured in the tracks, a few audience noises, and the fact that Haïm's excessively fast tempo leaves mezzo-soprano Renata Pokupić behind in the dust in Nerone's "Come nube che fugge dal vento" from Handel's Agrippina. One can excuse the obligatory Hallelujah chorus, complete with audience participation, with Christmas having been just around the corner, but not the Pájaros Perdidos-style Latin salsafication of Purcell's Sound the Trumpet.

(Note Haïm's unorthodox conducting style and read the comments on
this post about her being fired from the Opéra de Paris)

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