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 Recording of the Week  The French Baroque - 200 Years of Versailles

Back in the mid-1980s, when the so-called “Baroque revival” was in full swing, the French had the foresight to realise that if their rich offering was going to be fully explored they needed some organised way of doing so. Thus, in 1987 the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles (CMBV) was founded with the role of researching, documenting, publishing, educating and also performing this wonderful treasure chest of music.

Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles

Twenty years later, the tireless activities of the CMBV has resulted in many of the otherwise neglected masterpieces written in and around Versailles between 1600 and 1800 being performed and recorded throughout the world. To celebrate this the CMBV has just released a bargain priced 20 CD box set containing recordings made during their twentieth anniversary celebrations last year.

It is a fabulous set and over the last couple of weeks I have listened to almost all of it. It is very cleverly put together working chronologically through from Louis XIII to Louis XVI, but also contains recordings made by all the different generations of musicians who have been so important in bringing this revival in the French Baroque about. There are recordings by the early pioneers (like William Christie), their disciples (including Christophe Rousset, Philippe Pierlot and Christophe Coin) as well as the new generation (represented by the likes of Patrick Cohën-Akenine and Jérémie Rhorer).

I’ve found it a real voyage of discovery going from the lute songs and early mass settings, through the early French operas and music written for the Chappelle Royale, to the grand motets, symphonies, chamber music and early piano works of the late eighteenth century. It comes with an excellent booklet giving full texts and short but informative summaries of the importance of each disc.

I have to be honest, I didn’t enjoy all the performaces, but I did enjoy the vast majority and also found several new works which I hadn't even heard of. And with singers like Veronique Gens and Bernarda Fink combined with some of the names mentioned above, and at a price of under 3 pounds a disc it is hard to go wrong.