Caroline Weynants, Caroline Bardot, Lucile Richardot, David Tricou, Nicolas Brooymans; Set of Correspondences/Sébastien Daucé
Harmonia Mundi HMM905325.26 107:00 min (2 discs)
Telling the myth of Psyche, whose legendary beauty inflamed the love of Cupid and the envy of Venus, this English “dramatic opera” was commissioned by Charles II from the poet-playwright Thomas Shadwell and the composers Matthew Locke and Giovanni Battista Draghi. Since Draghi’s contributions have not survived, this reconstruction by harpsichordist-director Sébastien Daucé fills in the gaps with appropriate music by Locke and contemporary composers who wrote for the English stage. The original would also have included spoken dialogue which is omitted here, meaning the musical numbers are thick and fast.
In its time, the work made a strong impression with its “new Scenes, new Machines, new Habits, new French Dances” and, musically, it has lost none of its freshness. Declamatory tunes give way to melodious chants and varied ensembles and choirs. There are atmospheric “curtain risers”, entrances and dances alternately rustic, martial, majestic. Here and there Locke peppers his riotous score with chromaticism and counterpoint, and everywhere his influence on Purcell is apparent. Add to all this a battery of theatrical and acoustic effects evoking grotesque scenes, flying gods, animated statues, hellish encounters with demons and furies, and you have a thrilling dramatic canvas.
Daucé has assembled a talented cast for this elegant performance: the soloists are well-matched, lending a sense of wholeness to the ensemble, and Shadwell’s text is clearly articulated (albeit with some seductive French accents). The real stars of the show are the instrumentalists who, under the learned and exuberant direction of Daucé, bring the score to life.
Kate Bolton Porciatti