Album Review: Airs sérieux & à boire/ Les Épopées

Specialist French Baroque ensemble Les Épopées, directed by Stéphane Fuget has recently released a CD, Airs sérieux & à boire, a collection of 29 entertaining songs from the vast repertoire of Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Resident at the Château de Versailles, the ensemble has released on the Château de Versailles label in its continuing series of discs for this recording house.

Airs sérieux & à boire is an anthology that presents the more earthy side of French music in the late 17th century, showcasing mostly, the solo voice with basso continuo accompaniment although several are sung in a beautifully blended ensemble (Allons sous ce vert feuillage).

The drinking songs are pure inebriated fun (Veux-tu, compère Grégoire), bawdy and burlesque (Beaux petits yeux l’écarlate). The airs are love songs expressing tenderness (Aupres du feu l’on fait l’amour) and longing (Si Claudine ma voisine). Some are lyrical (Tout renaît, tout fleuret) and others are dance-like (Que Louis par sa vaillance). Shorter ditties sit amongst more sophisticated songs in the manner of an art song or even an operatic aria, embellished with a recitative (Fenchon, la gentille Fenchon).

The ensemble of singers and instrumentalists are experts in the style and masters of the technique, creating a delicious sound. It is a very cohesive ensemble comprising sopranos Claire Lefilliâtre and Gwendoline Blondeel, haute-contre Cyril Auvity, tenor Marc Mauillon and bass Geoffroy Buffière with Fuget brilliantly directing from the harpsichord. His period instrumentalists comprise Alice Coquart bass violin, Mathias Ferrè bass viol with Pierre Rinderknecht and Léo Brunet playing theorbo and guitar.

Although the experience of this CD is purely auditory, Les Épopées convincingly communicates the various sentiments of the songs be they amorous, passionate, wistful or cheeky. The words and emotions are vividly and dramatically expressed despite the lack of a visual element, a sign of skilled vocal communicators.

Scholarly and comprehensive program notes include historical and biographical notes and full texts and translations in three languages. The artwork is exquisite with several glossy plates in colour taking us to the moods and the aesthetics of the times.

Airs sérieux & à boire is a worthy collection of music and a beautiful souvenir-style addition to the series from Chateau de Versailles, which includes the grand motets of Lully, Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses and Leçons de ténèbres featuring the music of Couperin and de Lalande. Not yet known in the Antipodes, the music of Les Épopées is especially appealing for lovers of the Baroque and students of the style. Airs sérieux & à boire in particular, gives us valuable and erudite insights into the performance of music from the late French Baroque.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

Read our interview with Stéphane Fuget.

More about Les Épopées/ Listen/Buy

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