«In summation, this is what makes Daucé and Ensemble Correspondanse’s new CD, the definitive version of La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers. The shade of Marc-Antoine Charpentier must be smiling in the Elysian Fields. »

CD Review © Paul-James DWYER, October 22, 2017

La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers
Ensemble Correspondances
Sébastien Daucé, Organ & Direction
Harmonia Mundi HMM902279  54:52

This masterpiece has been recorded before numerous times, all with inconclusive results. A complex work to realize convincingly? Not necessarily. None of the former discs have been totally satisfying, lacking either theatrical integrity or a certain subtlety that is a must with this composers art.  Perhaps the fourty-odd years of research on the Charpentier is now bearing greater fruit? The numerous recordings Sébastien Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances have released to date by Charpentier, have added inexorably to the level of understanding and appreciation this composer now enjoys. Daucé has to be considered one of the great Charpentier scholars and champions, with his superlative research. His is credited as one of the co-editors of the edition for this composition, published by Éditions des Abbesses. His direction of the group’s CD’s strike one as definitive, even upon initial hearing.

This new one a mini-opera (2 Acts) follows suit. They have created a disc of rare beauty. A poetic victory that resonates long after the last notes have sounded. A haunting CD that elucidates the mystery of love, and the passing of life suddenly lost to a tragic death. The poem itself (author unknown) is of a heightened quality consistent with the high literary standards of the age of the grand siècle.

The American haute-contre Robert Getchell, sings the lead role of Orphée, with a strength and limpid delivery. His entrance in Acte I, Scène II, at the death of Eurydice (Quoi? Je perds Eurydice?), is both dramatically riveting and emotionally cathartic. Two other stand-outs in the cast are Nicolas Brooymans, basse who sings Pluton and Étienne Bazola, basse-taille as Apollon. The five female singers are all of a stellar quality, a consistent hallmark of the groups vocal offerings.

The action of the drama progresses quickly. By the end of Acte I Eurydice has expired with Orpheus being advised against suicide by his immortal father Apollon. The sun god beautifully sung by Bazola, is followed by a chorus of mourners (nymphs and shepherds) and a pair of instrumental interludes. Charpentier exposes in these two masterful miniatures, the frenzy of tragic emotion in a sharp contrast to the bucolic calm of the opening sections of the act, where a Fête Galante, only moments before luxuriated.

Thomas Leconte, musicologist with Centre Musique Baroque de Versailles penned the four page essay, that traces the history of the Orpheus myth in French music and theatre through the course of the 17th century. The text ends at the point where Orpheus finally gains permission from Pluton to take Eurydice back to the world of the living. Leconte discusses the question was the manuscript left to us incomplete, with a possible lost third act? In the original mythic tale, it concludes with the unfolding of Eurydice’s insistence on a gaze from her lover, with its disastrous results. Leconte argues against this theory plausibly, stating “…the work does possess a genuine musical conclusion… If this ending is indeed deliberate, the work assumes a particular emphasis and may be read as a optimistic interpretation of the myth, which is considered more as an allegory of the union of body and soul… Charpentier’s Orpheus thus embodies the full creative force that the power of love can elicit, and, finally, in an humanistic ideal, also represents the perfection that the human soul can attain through art.”

The piece ends with an Entrée des Fantômes, where Charpentier captures in a musical impression the flickering light of the setting sun, as it dances on the walls of a room. A myriad darting souls? Or are they the shadows of leaves swaying on the trees, outside the window? All just out of reach. Loss and regret are blended together in one last gesture of harmony, peace and love. In summation, this is what makes Daucé and Ensemble Correspondanse’s new CD, the definitive version of  La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers. The shade of Marc-Antoine Charpentier must be smiling in the Elysian Fields.

Paul-James DWYER
Combermere, Canada

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