Les Délices, which includes Baroque oboist Debra Nagy, Mélisande Corriveau on viola da gamba, and Eric Milnes on harpsichord, explores the dramatic potential and emotional resonance of long-forgotten music. Founded by Nagy in 2009, Les Délices has established a reputation for their unique programs that are “thematically concise, richly expressive, and featuring composers few people have heard of.” The New York Times added, “Concerts and recordings by Les Délices are journeys of discovery.”
SONGS WITHOUT WORDS, Les Délices’ second release on Navona Records, was initially inspired by the artists’ desire to recover a lost repertory. While Baroque woodwinds were invented in the 1660s and 70s, no published solo music exists for them prior to 1700. The initial question that SONGS WITHOUT WORDS sought to answer was, “What do you suppose oboists and flutists had been playing during those 30-plus years?”
Motivated by the sensuous sounds and rhythms of the French language, and enabled by advances in instrument building, 17th century woodwind players adapted vocal airs – complete with rich and complex ornamentation – as a source of solo repertoire. While recording SONGS WITHOUT WORDS initially presented an opportunity to discover and present that lost practice, as a 21st-century musician, Nagy chose to expand her own repertoire with 20th Century with jazz standards and pop tunes – from artists as diverse as Lennon and McCartney, Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson, Edith Piaf and Erroll Garner – arranged for and improvised by the ensemble. The French airs on the album are by some of the greatest writers of the 17th century: Michel Lambert, Jean-Baptiste de Bousset, and Jean-Philippe Rameau.
Programming jazz standards and pop songs on Baroque instruments might seem a risky proposition. In the hands of Les Délices, however, the performances are soulful and compelling. The interweaving of these tunes with French Baroque airs allows one to hear all of the music differently, in a work that is truly timeless.