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Fanfare # 47.2 (11-12/2023)
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Analyste: Raymond Tuttle


Though dominated by the mastery of Monteverdi, this is quite an assortment of music. Artistic director Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas says that he “wanted to re-imagine a large-scale evening of festivities on the Piazza San Marco and in the Basilica, but also in the gardens and salons of the city’s palaces.” All in all, he has given us an idealized soundtrack for “a night of festive celebration in Venice—mingling the sacred and the profane, the intimate and the grandiose, dance and contemplation.” Quite a tall order! One could argue that the resulting program does not make a lot of sense, artistically speaking, but because it is so enjoyable, I am willing to overlook that.

Some of these selections are taken from larger works. Two of the pieces by Monteverdi, for example, are from his Selva morale e spirituale, but you wouldn’t know it from the accompanying printed materials. Similarly, the booklet has little to say about all of these works except in relatively general terms. I would love to have learned more, for instance, about Monteverdi’s Laudate Dominum primo, which contains a sequence of descending chords, repeated several times, that would have been harmonically bizarre in music from the past century, let alone during Monteverdi’s era. My guess is that this CD is intended primarily for those who respond positively to the mere mention of Venice, and not as much for scholars of music from this era. Antonio Lotti’s solemn Crucifixus (the one in eight parts, not the one in six) is sung one voice to a part with an instrumental accompaniment, and at a breezy tempo. It is very different from what I am used to, and I suspect from what you are used to as well. I guess that’s why this ensemble has the name that it does.

I also thought it was odd that this disc was titled Nuit à Venise—surely “Notte à Venezia” would have been more appropriate, were it not for the fact that the ensemble is French. The performances themselves, while not inauthentic, owe more to French styles than to Venetian. (I would like to think that, if blinded, I still could have named the nationality of the performers in five notes or less.) Maybe this is a “nuit à Venise” after all. One notes, from watching the news, that this summer has been particularly challenging for tourist destinations, Venice in particular, with foreign visitors carrying on bibulously and falling into the lagoons. In the best possible way, that’s the spirit that underlies this particular CD. Even when the music is sacred, the presentation is not especially devout.

Ensemble Les Surprises comprises eight performers, including the artistic director, who plays organ and harpsichord as needed. The brass players, critical participants in these works, crown themselves with glory, but everyone makes a good impression on this CD, as long as you can accept the airy and decidedly secular spirit behind it.


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