Every year, beginning in early December, I enjoy listening to as many versions of Handel's Messiah as I can: from rambling, romantic traditional versions to HIP re-enactments. I especially love hearing the version Mozart prepared in 1789, which adds trombones and clarinets, but more importantly brings a new sensibility to bear on this great music, which was first performed in 1741. Something very similar is at play here: in 1770 three composers, Antoine Dauvergne, François Rebel and Bernard de Bury, were commissioned to update the classic Lully opera Persée, originally written in 1682 for the inauguration of the new opera house at Versailles. It's presented by Le concert Spirituel under Herve Niquet in a beautiful package from Alpha Classics, who are fast becoming my favourite label.
The late 18th century didn't have the same regard for historical accuracy that has become the norm in the 21st, and the French musical establishment had been monkeying around with the great scores of the 17th century long before this project. This is a much more thorough reboot of Lully than the Mozart Messiah, and it's the source of much pleasure for the open-minded. Of the three new composers I know Dauvergne the best; I had an LP of his short comic opera Les Trouquers many years ago that I loved. The other two I was unaware of (once I realized that the Rebel I know is the father Jean-Féry and not the son François). All three do their thing with freedom, adding flutes and bassoons, clarinets and horns, and writing a fair amount of new music. Here's the original overture by Lully, played by the present band, Le Concert Spirituel under Herve Niquet:
and the new Overture by Dauvergne:
A new sound for a new Opera House! We have the torso of Lully's opera left, along with a general feeling of stateliness, grandeur and shameless flattery towards royalty. In all, this is a fun package with a scrupulously researched back story for those who want to delve into the music historical aspects. It's so beautifully played and sung that I have no hesitation in recommending it.