Collection: Jean de la Fontaine

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Anonymous,Beauchamps,Charpentier,Couperin,Lambert
LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Amadis (excerpts); L’air de trembleurs; Sonata L’Astrée
PERFORMER: Isabelle Desrochers (soprano), Bernard Deletré (bass), Christian Asse (reciter); La Simphonie du Marais/Hugo Reyne
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45229 2

Advertisement

This is a beautiful, thoughtfully compiled disc. It chronologically charts the life of Jean de La Fontaine, that 17th-century master of the fable, through his own words and through music that sets his text, or that he simply admired. There’s one particular coup: the inclusion of identifiable extracts from the opera by Charpentier that sets a text by La Fontaine. Alas, the whole work did not survive, probably for reasons to do with Lully’s royally granted privilege, but the booklet notes make an excellent case for the association with the opera of the few pieces recorded here.

La Fontaine’s bon goût – often more than implicitly anti-Lully – is attested to by his admiration of composers like the lutenist Ennemond Gaultier, the harpsichordist Chambonnières, and Pierre de Nyert, master of the air de cour, of whose work there is tragically but one surviving example, ‘Si vous voulez que je cache ma flamme’. All are represented here, as, for the sake of fairness and balance – La Fontaine did write the dedicatory preface to Lully’s opera Amadis, after all – is Lully himself, though the extracts from Amadis and Isis (the famous ‘Air de Trembleurs’) are to texts by his usual librettist Quinault.

Advertisement

Performances of these and other riches – not least Couperin’s Sonata L’Astrée at the end – by La Simphonie du Marais under Hugo Reyne and with soloists Isabelle Desrochers and Bernard Deletré, are excellent. Christian Asse strikes exactly the right atmosphere in his readings, among which is La Fontaine’s furious satire of Lully, Le Florentin. But brush up your French: no translations of the texts are provided. Stephen Pettitt