Emmanuelle Haïm / Le Concert d'Astrée


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The logistical efforts involved in the making of this album must have been as strenuous as those on the musical side, for this is one of the first real all-star releases to have emerged from the historical-instrument side of the recording catalog. Lovers of vocal music per se may be interested in the dsic purely because it offers a rare opportunity to compare conventionally trained singers with their early music counterparts in similar repertory, for this is among the first recordings to feature the likes of Rolando Villazón side by side with Philippe Jaroussky and Véronique Gens. The contrasts are all the more vivid because of the restriction of the program to a single genre, the lamento, or lovers' plaint, which was frequently half in love with easeful death. The objection that an entire program of laments might be a bit of a downer doesn't hold, for these were virtuoso pieces as well as tearjerkers. The vocal ranges for some of them are extreme (hear bass-baritone Christopher Purves forced down to the very bottom of his range in Stefano Landi's Superbe colli, e voi, sacre ruine, track 5), and there are many contrasts in addition to the ones between the pieces with male and female protagonists. The album is, quite simply, a thrill. Enthusiasts may debate the merits of the individual singers; the Monteverdi Lamento della ninfa, featuring the combined talents of Natalie Dessay, Simon Wall, Topi Lehtipuu, and Christopher Purves, is likely to be a standout on most lists. But the real credit goes to conductor Emmanuelle Haïm and her lush ensemble Le Concert d'Astrée, which fuse all these diverse voices into a single unit. A superb effort that may well elicit from hearers the same intense emotional reactions described in the Italian nobles who encountered the music on its first presentation. All texts are given in English, German, French, and the original Italian.

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