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Carolyn Sampson: “A French Baroque Diva: Arias for Marie Fel”

spacer Opera and sacred arias by Fiocco, Lacoste, Lalande, Mondonville, Rameau and Rousseau; Ex Cathedra, 
Skidmore. Texts and translation. Hyperion A68035


CDs dedicated to the eighteenth-century virtuosos who peopled the Italian operas of their day have become very common; single issues concentrating on the great exponents and creators of the parallel French repertory remain rare. The accomplished, stylistically informed British soprano Carolyn Sampson offers a highly worthy study of — and tribute to — her great predecessor Marie Fel (1713–94), a key figure for Rameau, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. Fel, born in Bordeaux to a highly musical family, made her initial bow at the future Opéra — then still called the Académie Royale de Musique — in 1734, when she had just turned twenty-one. She sang the Prologue (“Ah! quand reviendront nos beaux jours?”) for a revival of Louis Lacoste’s 1705 Philomèle. That number — declaimed lyric accompanied recitative with a choral midsection — opens Sampson’s recital. Fel gained increased virtuosity and confidence after study with the Italian soprano Christina Somis, which allowed her to move beyond ingénues to leading parts both tragic and comic. Her creation of La Folie in Rameau’s Platée — a diva role if ever there was one — transformed her into Paris’s leading soprano for the following quarter century. Fel retired from stage work in 1758 but continued her already established work singing religious music with Le Concert Spirituel until 1769. Some of the present disc’s most compelling discoveries derive from Joseph Hector Fiocco’s psalm setting “Laudate pueri”; Sampson here sings Fel’s original ornamentation.

Sampson is no stranger to recording studios. Foremost in her opera repertory have been composers such as Purcell, Handel, Rameau and Campra; she also sings Stravinsky’s Anne Trulove, a neoclassical exception that proves the rule. Sampson wields a light, bright lyric soprano with the requisite agility to conquer almost all of the hurdles here. (A few high-lying melismatic runs stretch her.) Fel gave the premieres of music not only in French and Latin but in Occitan, for 1754’s dialect-set Daphnis et Alcimadure, by Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (like Fel, from southern France). Alcimadure’s sparkling “Gasouillats auzeléts” is here, along with two contrasting slow, solemnly beautiful movements from Mondonville’s 1740 motet Venite, Exsultemus. Occitan lies outside my professional competence, but Sampson’s French enunciation is clear and well practiced. The members of Jeffrey Skidmore’s precise instrumental and choral ensemble, Ex Cathedra, prove excellent collaborators. This CD should please anyone intrigued by late French Baroque music’s special sound world. spacer 



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