Le Concert Royal de la Nuit

Ensemble Correspondances, Sébastien Daucé
[T153:00 (2 CDs)
harmonia mundi HMC 952223.24

If I had to sum up this release in one word that word would be ‘lavish’. The two discs lurk in the end papers of a 190-page glossy book that offers multiple colour illustrations and a variety of essays in multiple languages, but, I find myself asking, to what end? At the heart of it all is the famous occasion on which the young Louis XIV appeared as the sun at the climax of the Ballet Royal de la Nuit. The music for this has been painstakingly re-composed – often from just a surviving melodic line – for the typical five-part ensemble of the time and 51 of the original 77 dances appear here. They have been ‘fleshed out’ for modern concert and recording purposes with music from Rossi’s Orfeo and Cavalli’s Ercole amante which have plot links with the ballet. In addition, a number of airs popular at the time, especially by Boesset, have been inserted. We are asked to imagine an occasion at which an older Louis was presented with a lavish entertainment which re-visited delights from his youth. Thus, to put it less kindly, we have a speculative re-construction of an event that never took place. The Ballet Royal has become a Concert Royal.

If you can swallow this conceit – which is not too hard – you will then be confronted with Christie-esque performance practice which means added elaborate percussion parts rather too often for my taste and recorders at unlikely pitches (both of these within the first half minute). So, purely musically, I did not enjoy this, though I can still imagine it winning awards. The real star is the book which, as well as telling you what you need to know in order to understand what’s going on, also includes a lot of fascinating contextual information. As so often, you pay your money…

David Hansell