Portraits de la Folie

Stéphanie d'Oustrac (mezzo-soprano); Ensemble Amarillis/Heloise Gaillard (Harmonia Mundi)

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CD_HMM902646_Oustrac

Portraits de la Folie
Works by Campra, Destouches, Eccles, Handel, Heinichen, Keiser, Marais, Purcell and Rebel
Stéphanie d’Oustrac (mezzo-soprano); Ensemble Amarillis/Heloise Gaillard
Harmonia Mundi HMM902646   63:03 mins

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This project is mainly about the diverse ways in which ‘Folly’ was dramatised musically in late French Baroque vocal works. Seductive, impish and pining, ‘Folly’ was a woman addled by love, or one who made a man lose himself in love; the mythic Semele, famous for both, was a favourite role. Mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac is dazzling across these various personae, to which she brings not only luscious vocalism but also a blistering intensity. No less impressive is the Ensemble Amarillis, directed by recorder player Héloïse Gaillard; for zest and bustling invention, the band at times outstrips Folly herself.

The enjoyment of a refined French enunciation is reason enough to buy this disc. D’Oustrac relishes her words, and squeezes gestures from them: sighing when they elide, or giving sexy little puffs to her nasal vowels. The extreme technical precision of her runs and swells, especially in the ‘Semele’ parts, gives her swift affective lift-off. This French music – by André Cardinal Destouches, Jean-Féry Rebel and Marin Marais – is rarely heard; crafted around both words and character, it serves d’Oustrac well. The band’s tracks, by German and English composers, are also chosen with care, their contrapuntal deftness allowing each player to strut. Johann David Heinichen’s scrummy seven-part concerto is a highlight.

This world-class performance is marred only by the inclusion of over-recorded Purcell and Handel ‘mad’ airs. These seem to deprive d’Oustrac of the easy assurance she has when singing French rarities and drive her to vocal mannerisms such as swooping. Otherwise the recording is a gem.

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Berta Joncus