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The hint of a smile plays on her lips, and her forthright gaze regards the viewer with an air of quizzical amusement. In her 1757 portrait, Marie Fel has the confident, sharp-witted expression you’d expect of a woman who inspired Rameau and Rousseau to compose for her, counted Voltaire among her closest friends and reportedly made Casanova blush. This disc traces her glittering career, from her 1734 debuts at both the Paris Opéra and the Concert Spirituel (at the age of 21) to her farewell performance in 1769, by which time she had long been France’s most feted singer, her virtuosic soprano variously hailed as pure, charming, silvery, seductive and sublime.

Ten years ago, Carolyn Sampson and Ex Cathedra teamed up to record Règne Amour, a delightful selection of love songs from Rameau’s operas. Their new collaboration may be even more delectable, since the focus on Fel’s repertoire allows for a broader choice of material, with works by Fiocco, Lacoste, Lalande, Mondonville, Rameau and Rousseau all featured. I especially enjoyed Sampson’s lovely interplay with flautist Rachel Brown on Mondonville’s ‘Venite adoremus’, and with oboist Gail Hennessy on Lalande’s ‘Viderunt omnes termini terrae’, although her passionate declamation of the lament ‘Tristes apprêts’, from Rameau’s Castor et Pollux, is perhaps the most enthralling performance on this fabulous release.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing