Beata es Maria is made up primarily of vocal music in praise of the Virgin that features three men's voices, a counter tenor, tenor, and bass. It's an especially attractive ensemble, and Charpentier, who is known to have sometimes sung the tenor parts, knew how to make the vocal lines terrifically appealing. The Magnificat that opens the album beautifully illustrates his skill in taking a much-used convention the chaconne, with a harmonic progression that (the composer reports) repeats 89 times and keeping it endlessly intriguing with his inventive handling of the voices.
With four recordings in six months, this seems to be open season for the Poulenc motets. The newcomers are up against stiff competition, and don't emerge unscathed from comparison either with the college next door (under Marlow on Conifer) or with the choir under the musical director of the one further along the road (Rutter on Collegium/Gamut).
This album of Baroque cantatas and chamber duets grew out of a 2007 performance of Stefano Landi's 1631 opera Il Sant'Alessio starring Philippe Jaroussky and Max Emanuel Cencic (among the eight countertenors in the cast) with William Christie conducting Les Arts Florissants. Christie was so impressed with the blend of Jaroussky and Cencic's voices that he brought them together to explore the vast and rarely performed repertoire of late 17th and early 18th century Italian duets for equal voices.
Based on a program presented at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2011, this recording, made in a German radio studio in 2013, offers a pair of little-known short operas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. One of the two, La descente d'Orphee aux enfers (not to be confused with a similarly titled cantata), either was left unfinished or has been partially lost; it is missing a finale and resolution to the plot.
The French Baroque air has not been much recorded, even in comparison with the earlier strophic air de cour. But the veteran ensemble Les Arts Florissants, under American-French director William Christie, having brought exposure to a good deal of previously unknown French music, is not slowing down in this regard, and this delightful collection of "serious and drinking airs" might well stimulate other performers to explore the repertory.
The Sicilian nobleman Sigismondo d'India was roughly contemporary with Monteverdi (both began their careers around 1600); the musical ferment of that period led, in d'India's case, to a very heady brew. His madrigals–duets, solos and five-voice works–are like inebriated Monteverdi: d'India set the Italian poetic texts (usually dealing with a lover's pain) with even less regard for academic counterpoint and even more surprising twists of harmony than did his more-famous colleague, yet the music never veers into the disorienting, seemingly willful weirdness of Gesualdo.
harpentier’s Médée is one of the glories of the Baroque. Medea’s betrayal by Jason, her comprehensive revenge and the plight of those caught up in this epic tragedy prompted Charpentier to compose music of devastating power. Transcending the constraints of the Lullian tragédie lyrique, he produced characterisations of astonishing complexity and invested vast stretches of music with a dramatic pace and a harmonic richness rivalled among contemporaries only by Purcell. The electrifying exchanges of the third act, mingling pathos with extreme violence, alone put Charpentier on the same imaginative level as Rameau and Berlioz. The machinations of the fourth act and the dénouement in the fifth maintain the same captivating impetus.
This is an attractive programme of comparatively rare vocal repertoire. Airs de cour by Charpentier (including verses from Corneille’s Le Cid) and Lambert are interpersed with instrumental movements from Couperin’s Les Nations. Cyril Auvity is an experienced advocate of the haute-contre repertoire and draws on all that experience to engage fully with the texts of these miniature dramas. His tone in the higher register can verge on the harsh, though this is a rare event.
For any enthusiast of Baroque music, the production of Lully's Armide at the Theatre des Champs Elysées, directed by William Christie and staged by Robert Carsen, was an exceptional event. The last and most successful collaboration between Lully and his librettist Quinault, Armide is the ideal of the genre as desired by Louis XIV: a tragic opera that achieves the perfect fusion of music, song and dance. William Christie leads the orchestra and chorus of Les Arts Florissants and a dazzling cast. Stephanie D’Oustrac is the imperious sorceress Armida, overcome by the violence of a forbidden passion.