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Following their initial releases of Italian and German chamber music, Ensemble Stravaganza venture into the vocal realm on this latest disc, where they are joined by Moroccan-born soprano Hasnaa Bennani for an attractively varied recital of French Baroque repertoire. The main items are the titular cantatas, Rameau’s early Orphée (1721) and Courbois’ Ariane (1710), nicely supplemented by Michel Lambert’s air de cour ‘Ombre de mon amant’ (1689), and two instrumental pieces: a violin sonata by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1707) and a chaconne for trio by Marin Marais (1692).

Lost love is the theme that links the vocal pieces. Lambert’s air de cour, the earliest work here, sounds a note of haunting desolation that echoes through the disc’s most moving moments, from Ariadne’s ‘fort lent’ air ‘Ne vous réveillez pas encore beaux yeux’, with its wonderfully somnambulant yet ominous tread, to Orpheus’ plaintive arioso, ‘Amour, Amour’. Stravaganza’s co-directors Domitille Gilon and Thomas Soltani suggest it echoes too in the lovely Air from Jacquet de la Guerre’s D minor sonata, though they don’t capture her tender sorrow quite as well as Florence Malgoire and Les Dominos on Ricercar.

Performances are mostly engaging, with Gilon’s agile, piquant violin an effective foil for Bennani’s rich soprano—though the latter’s alluring tone is perhaps undermined by her use of a little more vibrato than I’d prefer. Incidentally, the booklet gives Courbois’ dates as ‘1705–1730’; unless he was only five years old when he published Ariane and his six other cantatas, I suspect it should read ‘fl.1705–1730’!

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing