And now for something slightly different. It’s Patricia Petibon singing a collection of French, Spanish and English baroque arias and songs. The title of the recording is “new world,” and so it makes sense that we’ve got the English, the French and the Spanish, and via the two excerpts from Les Indes galantes, I guess at least baroque representations of Native Americans. (But if were talking about the colonial world, what about the Dutch? I ask you, what about the Dutch? Then again, I’m not sure that “Patricia Petibon sings the Dutch baroque” is necessarily a winning concept, as far as marketing goes. This not intended as a criticism of Petibon. I would be skeptical even of, say, Dorothea Röschmann and Vesselina Kasarova singing the Dutch baroque, together, in matching dresses, with a halftime performance by Joyce DiDonato. I mean, I’d buy that in in a second – wouldn’t you? – but that is not really an argument for the soundness of the idea.)
This recording is a mixture of familiar items like “When I am laid in earth” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, some traditional songs such as “Greensleeves” and a lot of lesser known baroque music, some of which was written in the New World. I would say that the two things that tie it all together, aside from the themes of the texts – love, loss, adventure – are one, the character and quality of the music and two, Petibon’s fairly unmistakable personality.
One of the most enjoyable things about this recording is the amount of color and variety and contrast in the intstrumental parts. We get everything from castanets to lutes to bagpipes, often in very strikingly different combinations. Many of the selections also have the rhythm and feel of popular song or dance music, e.g. the various anonymous pieces from the Codex Martínez Compañón, or the traditional “J’ai vu le loup.” The musicians’ sense of rhythm is great – at times it feels as if the lute is a percussion instrument as well as a stringed one. These selections are mixed up, very effectively, with some of Rameau’s big showpieces from Les Indes Galantes and other pieces that have a much more traditional “baroque chamber music” feel, like the arrangement of “Greensleeves” and the selections from Purcell.
What really makes this recording, though, is Petibon’s endlessly elastic musical personality. Her performances can walk a fine line between quirky and expressive on the one hand and just a shade too far on the other – here, she doesn’t cross that line. She gets to yell and exclaim in some of the more popular-flavored pieces; in the “les Sauvages” selection from Les Indes Galantes she hits just the right combination of elegance and exuberance; and in “Greensleeves,” where the vocal part is gradually wound together with a lute and a recorder successively, the mood is quiet and restrained, and her voice has a chance to just be itself. There are a lot of well-considered contrasts of mood in this, for example between the “Indes galantes” bit and the next item, Handel’s Spanish cantata, “No se emendará jamás.”
I ended up admiring here the same things I usually admire about Petibon’s performances – the pleasure she takes in the sheer fun of performing, combined with a voice that appears to be able to do anything she wants it to. She’s a very extroverted performer. While some singers lose themselves entirely in the music or the drama, one can always feel Petibon herself there. This isn’t intended to be a criticism, just an impression of her performance style – you’re aware of her presence, and aware of her awareness of her audience. Often, she’s giving you a wink. I would not say that this is a recording to move one deeply, but it’s certainly plenty of fun.