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To say that this disc represents all that is worst about the classical recording industry is no reflection on either the Swiss mezzo-soprano Marie-Claude Chappuis or her lutenist Luca Pianca. It’s precisely the disparity between the quality of their offering here – the meticulously researched, enchanting collection of songs (as well as some catchy dances) they have assembled and performed – and the way this vivacious, lovely music is presented that makes me despair.
‘Sous l’empire d’Amour’ is no budget product but a full-price release by a major label; and yet, while there is space in the booklet for an involved debate as to the authenticity of the stringing of Piante’s archlute, no translations are provided for the music’s many verses in antiquated French. Translated booklet notes strike the dustiest and stiffest of scholarly tones and are presented in such a way as to be almost unreadable. And so you have a glorious product, one that would appeal to any curious or casual listener, presented in such a way that only the most confident and determined of specialists will even pick it up. What a shame.
Because the music here – 17th-century French lute songs by Lully, Michel Lambert and Gabriel Bataille, pastel-pretty and delicately sentimental as a Watteau painting – really is sublime. Take Lambert’s Goûtons un doux repos, which opens the disc, a softer French reimagining of the ground bass familiar to us from Poppea’s ‘Pur ti miro’, or the artful sincerity of Francois Richard’s Ruisseau qui cours après toy-mesme – both classics of their kind, their sentimentality set against the more muscular fun of Bataille’s Ma bergère non légère and Étienne Moulinié’s Amis environs-nous, with their stamping, skirt-tossing swagger. We hear just how tantalisingly close to the freedom of Strozzi and Caccini some of Lambert’s songs in particular come, and trace the folk melodies and dances of France as they find their winding way into these courtly numbers.
Chappuis’s bold performances – always risking beauty in the name of clarity and drama – give these miniatures plenty of verve and weight, supported by the nimble, rhetorical playing of Pianca. If you can get over the packaging, this really is a disc to listen and listen again to.
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