Alexandra Coghlan
July 2014

She was Voltaire's 'adorable nightingale' and inspired a generation of composers with her vocal beauty and virtuosity: Marie Fel was the diva of her day and the darling of the French baroque. In this exquisite release from soprano Carolyn Sampson and Ex Cathedra, Sampson steps into Fel's dainty silk slippers and guides us through a life in music, one baroque bonbon at a time.

Sacred and secular repertoire co-exist happily here in works by Rameau, Mondonville, Lalande and even philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau—moonlighting as a composer. The names might not all be familiar, but the idiom is instantly recognisable and attractive: sensuous, fluttering ornaments and coyly unfolding melodies, a world away from the corseted beauty of their German contemporaries.

Sampson’s rounded tone and poised musicality find a natural fit in this repertoire, showcased beautifully in ‘Un tendre intérêt vous appelle’ from Rameau’s Castor et Pollux and Lalande’s sacrilegiously lovely ‘Tu Rex gloriae’. Just occasionally, it would be good to hear her unbend a bit more and offer fire as well as elegant restraint, but it’s a small quibble.

Sampson is supported by the voices and instruments of Ex Cathedra, directed by Jeffrey Skidmore. Idiomatic and atmospheric, it’s these contributions that really make the disc—transforming it from studio recital to a vivid historical re-enactment that’s anything but dusty.