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SIG 032
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SIG 032

The Sultan & the Phoenix - Charivari Agréable

The Classical Shop
release date: July 2007

Originally recorded in 2007


Charivari Agréable


St Andrews Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire

3-5 Dec 2000


Adrian Hunter


Adrian Hunter

Record Label


Early Music

Total Time - 68:09
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La Piémontoise; (b, d, i, h, j, l, m)

  arr. K.-M. Ng  

Pavannce in F sharp minor; (b, e, h, i)

  arr. S. Heinrich  

Fantaisie pour les Violes; (b, i, k)

  arr. S. Heinrich  

2e Fantaisie à 5; (b, d, i, h, j, l)




Le Phénix, Concerto in D major for four bass viols & basso continuo; (c, i, h, j, m)

5 Allegro 2:47
6 Adagio 3:18
7 Allegro 3:03



Les baricades mistérieuses; (l)

  (arr. L. Sayce)  



Récit; (b, l, n)

  arr. K.-M. Ng  



La Sultane; (a, d, h, i, l, n)




La Chéron; (m)




La Madin; (a, d, m)

  arr. K.-M. Ng  

La Casaubon; (a, d, m)

  arr. K.-M. Ng  


(c.1680-after 1756)

'Sonate en quatuor' in B minor; (a, d, g, i, l, m)

14 Movt. 1 2:10
15 Movt. 2 2:25
16 Movt. 3 1:37
17 Movt. 4 2:12



Chaconne, from the final act of Alcione; (a, d, j, h, i, l, m)

  arr. K.-M. Ng  

Louis (c.1626-1661), François le Grand (1668-1733) and Armand-Louis (1727-1789) were the three most celebrated members of the distinguished Couperin family of musicians who flourished from the late 16th century until the middle of the 19th, holding a position of esteem parallel to that of the Bachs in Germany.

The Sultan and the Phoenix presents both masterpieces and rare gems from the Couperins and their contemporaries, all delivered with a rare insight by the ensemble charivari agréable. The programme presents an overview of the ensemble use of the viol in its various manifestations and stages of evolution in France. The Couperin dynasty offers a convenient chronological framework within which the viol could be heard in various guises: from a consort setting to a ‘pièces de clavecin en concerts’ configuration; from a six-string bass viol to a five-string hybrid ‘quinton’. Underpinning this programme is the historical practice of adaptation, transcription and arrangement with which French baroque music is replete.

Historical tradition is followed by the arrangement of some pieces by the players. Some involved direct transcription, such as the L. Couperin Pavan for a viol consort or the F. Couperin harpsichord piece for theorbo (in the style of de Visée, see above). Other pieces are left untouched, such as L. Couperin’s Fantaisies and Corrette’s Phénix, as well as the large-scale chamber works of Dornel and Couperin.

Charivari Agréable’s reputation as one of the most original ensembles in the period-instrument scene was recently articulated by the BBC Music Magazine, which noted that the ensemble “has carved something of a niche for itself in imaginative and well thought-out programming”, reasoning that its work is the fruit of both scholarly research and charismatic musicianship, a combination which puts it at the forefront of period-instrument ensembles.

This recording is refreshing and rewarding. Charivari Agréable is a rare combination with a distinct sound and sonority, displaying sincere empathy and love for the repertory they choose to record.

"Best to my ears is a French viol music collection of music by Louis & François Couperin, Corrette, Dumage, Duphly, Dornel & Marais, which rings the changes deliciously upon bowed and plucked strings and keyboard instruments of the period. They are all scholars, but not purists in any restrictive sense, and Kah-Ming Ng describes how they adopt contemporary practice of the period by completing the compositional process in respect of instrumentation, ornamentation and free arrangements. The performances and their recordings are alive with a presence close to memories of hearing them live. Presentation and documentation are immaculate, with the easiest of codes to follow so that you know who is playing which instruments on each track. I have enjoyed all their CDs, but this one, with some ravishing large scale pieces lasting most of ten minutes, is my favourite: The Sultan & the Phoenix."

Peter Grahame Woolf

Seen and Heard

"On this delectable disc the three members of Charivari Agréable; Kah-Ming Ng (keyboard), Susanne Heinrich (viola da gamba) and Lynda Sayce (lute and theorbo), are joined by four more violists in an exploration of the richly varied soundworld of French viol music in the period from the mid 17th to the mid 18th century. As on previous records from this group many of the pieces are played in arrangements made by its members, and these, it seems to me, are exceptionally well judged both historically and, more importantly, musically. If the recital belongs above all to the violists, lutenist will particularly appreciate Lynda Sayce’s transcription for theorbo of François Couperin’s ever captivating ’Les baricades mistèrieuses’, which sounds, as all such transcriptions should, as if it had been written with the chosen instrument in mind. Of the unarranged pieces Corrette’s Vivaldian Concert for four bass viols and continuo, subtitled ’La Phénix’, is exemplary in showing the glorious resonance that these violists draw from their instruments; while the whole recording ends with a captivating performance of the great Chaconne that ends Marais’ 1706 opera Alcione - one of those hypnotically repetitive pieces that I, at least, wish would never end. Evey listener will have his special favourite among the tracks included - mine, I think, are the opening works by Louis Couperin - but none, I suspect, will be disappointed by any of them.This is music making of a superlative order deployed in work that is mostly of the highest quality and some that is relatively little known even to afficionados of the early music scene. Above all it is a recording that breathes life into instruments and compositions which, while always requiring a due respect, were never meant to be treated with rapt reverence alone. In other words ’The Sultan and the Phoenix’ is a disc that the discerning purchaser would be foolish to miss and an eloquent tribute to how far the early music movement has come since its enthusiastic but sometimes over-earnest early days."

David J Levy

Lute News - No 60 - December 2001

"This disc which has given me such pleasure and delight. It consists of music of the French Baroque dating from a period c.1660 to c.1760.

... if you enjoy baroque music or indeed any early music, this disc is worth investigating."

Gary Higginson

Music Web

"The latest CD from Charivari Agréable presents a feast of ensemble music for viol, in its various manifestations from the French baroque. The playing is refined and tasteful—in the best French manner—and utterly compelling. It is well worth investigating, even for people who don’t normally like viol music.

Seven musicians appear on this recording, Susanne Heinrich, Sarah Groser, Susanna Pell, Reiko Ichise and Asako Morikawa play a variety of viols, while Lynda Sayce plays theorbo and 10-course lute, and Kah-Ming Ng plays chamber organ and harpsichord. That range of instruments offers considerable variety, which Charivari Agréable exploit to the full, with textures which range from the fullness of Corrette’s Le Phénix for four viols and continuo, to the exquisite solo theorbo version of François Couperin’s Les baricades mistérieuses.

Many of the distinctions between composition and performance which later became rigid were remarkably fluid when this music was aritten. This applies to the obvious things—continuo realizations and ornamentation—and to more drastic alteration. When French baroque treatises offer advice on how to turn a solo keyboard work into a trio sonata, it makes perfect sense for performers to adapt or arrange works, taking into account the instruments and musical personalities involved. The result is that about half of the pieces presented here are arrangements by members of the ensemble, and the promise of creativity implied in that statement is richly satisfied.

The French flirtation with Italian styles provided a continual source of variety, and the Italian aspect is particularly noticeable in François Couperin’s La Sultane, except that, being scored for two bass viols with organ and theorbo continuo, it also manages to sound utterly French as well as convincingly Italian. Imaginative right-hand work on the organ by Kah-Ming Ng neatly avoids the risk of this combination sounding too bass-heavy.

This CD provides a fascinating and hugely stimulating set of snap-shots from over a century of French music for viol, and promises to make many converts for what might seem to be an obscure repertoire."

Mark Argent

Early Music News - March 2002

                           Artistic quality 9 - Sound quality 9

"This could have been just another viol consort disc, but instead it manages to offer some unique and worthwhile perspectives on works by the Couperins—Louis, François, and Armand-Louis—and throws in some very attractive pieces by Jacques Duphly, Marin Marais, Louis-Antoine Dornel, Pierre Dumage, and Michel Corrette. Don’t worry if most of these names aren’t familiar: the music, some presented in its original from, the rest in artful arrangements by members of the early music ensemble Charivari Agréable (“pleasant tumult”), is eminently listenable and musically satisfying. The Couperins composed mostly for organ and harpsichord, and several of the works here are arranged or adapted from keyboard pieces, most notably François’ Les barricades mistérieuses, whose sensuous, flowing. suspension-laden lines prove well-suited to a solo theorbo. The bass viol also figures prominently—and unusually—in Corrette’s Le Phenix, a concerto for four bass viols, and in Francois Couperin’s La Sultane (for two bass viols), the cornposer s “attempt” to write a piece in the style of Corelli. Perhaps the most striking of all the works on this program are two by Duphly, La Madin and La Casaubon. Originally for keyboard, the composer also included violin accompaniments; but in this version, harpsichordist Kah-Ming Ng has created settings for two solo treble viols and keyboard that are so thoroughly engaging that you’ll likely want an immediate repeat performance.

The seven performers from the UK-based Charivari Agréable are experienced early music practitioners who have made their mark particularly in performances and recordings of French baroque music. They certainly have a knack for finding appropriate repertoire and, where useful or necessary, adapting it for their own style and instrumentation—a practice fully consistent with that of 17th- and 18th-century musicians. The sound is bright and resonant, wanting only a bit more warmth. This is an intelligently created and expertly played program that shouldn’t be overlooked by fans of Baroque instrumental chamber music."

David Vernier

"Speaking of arrangements...apparently there was a well-established tradition in French baroque music of embellishment and adaptation; performers were expected to complete the process of composition themselves, even going so far as to turn harpsichord pieces into trio sonatas or works for larger ensembles, all with the tacit approval of the composer. At least that’s the thesis behind the latest CD from the viol consort Charivari Agréable...and I love the rich sound they make in their own version of Louis Couperin’s keyboard piece La Piémontoise.

La Piémontoise by Louis Couperin, a keyboard piece made flesh by the viol consort Charivari Agréable...whose name, by the way, means ‘pleasant tumult’ and this new CD of theirs is certainly that! Originals and arrangements of Couperin, Corrette, Dornel, Duphly and Marais, the CD’s called ‘The Sultan and the Phoenix’ and its on Signum Records."

Andrew MacGregor

BBC 3 CD Radio Review - October 2001

"Of the 15 works recorded here eight are played in arrangements by the performers, a practice of the group that has raised some hackles in the past … including mine but ought not to here, where the new versions inhabit very much the sound-world of the composers concerned and are very artistically done. Some, such as François Couperin’s Les baricades mistèrieuse on theorbo (Lynda Sayce) are perfectly legitimate, unfussy transcriptions, and very well this is played, too. Others could even be said to be enhanced by their new garb, especially the wonderful Pavane by Louis Couperin. The programme as a whole offers a survey of the use of the viol in 17th- and 18th- century France and contrasts short pieces with longer ensemble works, among which F. Couperin’s La Sultane is a particular success, Dornel’s Sonate en quatuor a welcome discovery and Corrette’s unlikely Le Phenix (for four bass viols and continuo — an amazing sound at this low pitch) good fun. Above all this comes across as a very good concert which will give much pleasure to its listeners. Great title, by the way."

David Hansell

Early Music Review - October 2001

                                Diapason d’or award

Diapason - January 2004

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