WORKS: Le retour de la paix; Pan et Syrinx; Le triomfe de la constance; La mort de Didon; La morte di Lucretia
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby (soprano); London Baroque
CATALOGUE NO: BIS BIS-CD-1865
This is an admirable marriage between scholarly revelation and uninhibited delight in performance. Montéclair’s 25 Cantates are rarely recorded: only one of those included here is currently available elsewhere on disc. Yet they’re distinctive, especially for their imaginative orchestration – the composer was, for 38 years, a bass player in the Paris Opera. Minimal forces – one or two violins or solo bass viol, with continuo – represent war-like trumpeting, a violent storm at sea, a muted Pan pipe, hunting horns; while two bass viols accompany a flowing, tender air in La triomfe de la constance, a warm sonority which has haunted me for days.
Emma Kirkby has thrilled us for years with her sparkling Italianate virtuosity. She’s no less outstanding in the subtleties of French singing, decorating lines with nuanced trills, turns and leaning dissonances, while sustaining an irresistible sense of purpose and forward direction. Her brief liner biography explains that she initially sang ‘for pleasure – and still does’, and the sense of sheer enjoyment in this music-making is palpable.
Although not in SACD, which BIS champions so valiantly, the recorded sound is spacious and balanced. Breaks between movements sometimes inhibit the dramatic flow: Dido’s mood-swing from blind fury to suicide is calculated rather than impetuous.
It’s extraordinary what depth of conflicting emotions can be packed into such relatively slight, brief movements – testimony to both their neglected composer and to inspirational performers. George Pratt