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Briefly Noted: Jupiter and Lea Desandre

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Amazone, L. Desandre, Jupiter, T. Dunford

(released on September 17, 2021)
Erato 190295065805 | 75'37"
Last Sunday, the early music ensemble known as Jupiter made its maiden appearance in the Washington area, with a stupendous all-Vivaldi concert at the Phillips Collection with mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre. (Although unreviewed in Washington, the group's debut at Carnegie Hall on Thursday received a well-deserved laudatory review in the New York Times.) Founded in 2018 by the talented lutenist Thomas Dunford, this crackerjack group has already released two fine albums. Following their debut disc in 2019, an exciting selection of Vivaldi arias and instrumental pieces for Alpha, this program of music inspired by the theme of Amazons came out last fall on the Erato label. Their Phillips recital was a mixture of repertory from the two.

The Amazons, presented often as the stuff of legend in Greek mythology, were likely based on real warrior women among the Scythians, as shown by recent research. Yannis François helped mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre design the program, selecting examples from Amazon characters in French and Italian Baroque operas, many of which had never been recorded before. Percussionists Keyvan Chemirani and Marie-Ange Petit add a touch of exotic savagery to some of the tracks, including the opener, "Non posso far" from Provenzale's Lo schiavo di sua moglie. A wind machine and thunder sheet set the scene for the storm sinfonia from Georg Caspar Schürmann's Die getreue Alceste, and castanets make "Sdegni, furori barbari" from Pallavicino's L’Antiope into a fandango. The two arias from Vivaldi's Ercole sul Termodonte make as fine a climax as they did at the Phillips concert.

The arias are often paired in fast and slow combinations, like the two from Mitilene, regina delle Amazzoni by Giuseppe de Bottis, featuring both Desandre's rapid-fire melismatic technique and luscious legato line. In one of several memorable guest appearances, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli soars in tandem with Desandre in the marvelous duet "Io piango / Io peno" from the Bottis opera. Soprano Véronique Gens joins with Desandre in a scene from Philidor's Les Amazones, and William Christie contributes a Passacaille in C by Louis Couperin, shadowed by Dunford on therbo. Virtuoso Jean Rondeau, who serves as the group's regular harpsichordist, improvises a postlude to one aria and performs the dance "L’Amazône" from François Couperin's Second Livre. A curious Thomas Dunford original, Amazones, rounds out the disc, although it is not listed in the booklet or provided with translations like the other vocal pieces.

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