Ombre De Mon Amant - French Baroque arias
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1634-1704)
Médée: Overture [1:55]; Act II, scene 2 [2:38]; Act III, scenes 3-7 [19:40]
Concert à quatre parties de violes (1. Prelude) [3:27]
‘ Auprès du feu l’on fait l’amour’ [1:59]
Concert à quatre parties de violes (4. Gigue anglaise) [1:07]
‘ Celle qui fait mon tourment’ [1:55]
Concert à quatre parties de violes (5. Gigue française) [1:11]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1774)
Hippolyte et Aricie: Act III, scene 1 [5:37]; Act IV, scene 4 [4:13]
Les Fêtes d’Hébé: Prologue, scene 5 [1:40]; Prologue, scene 4 [2:11]; Première Entrée, scene 8 [1:46]; Seconde Entrée, scene 8 [7:00]; Act IV, scene 4 [4:13]
Michel LAMBERT (1610-1696)
‘ Ma bergère est tendre et fidèle’ [2:34]; ‘Ombre de mon amant’ [4:32]; ‘Vos mépris chaque jour’ [2:30]
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. Church of Notre Dame du Liban, Paris, September 2008. DDD
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 477 8610 [65:04] 

Look again, and you will see that Anne Sofie von Otter is the soloist in this collection of French baroque arias. The Swedish mezzo-soprano doesn’t immediately spring to mind as an interpreter of this kind of repertoire, but according to the CD sleeve-notes, she has had begun a ‘new love affair’ with the music of Charpentier, Rameau and others.

In fact, she has been singing Rameau since 2002, and this programme of works by the great master, plus Charpentier and Michel Lambert, is taken from performances at the 2008 Edinburgh and Lucerne Festivals.

It is a rather mixed bag of musical offerings. Most of the vocal music comes from Charpentier’s Médée (1693) and Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie of 1733. In between are arias by Lambert, orchestral excerpts from Rameau’s Les Fêtes d’Hébé, and sundry songs and instrumental pieces by Charpentier. Such eclecticism means that the disc lacks a unifying theme, or a single quality of sound to draw in the listener. This is worsened by the jumping about from one composer and work to another. The scenes from Médée and Hippolyte et Aricie, for example, are split across the 65 minutes of playing time.

But be patient and keep an open mind, and you will be rewarded with numerous highlights. The most obvious of these is von Otter herself. Her studied technical control, underlying sensuality and barely restrained passion are ideal for the French tragédie lyrique. Her diction, too, is crystal clear, and the occasional lapses into Germanic steeliness in the lower registers sound perfectly apt in the taut arias for Medea and Phedre.

Tracks 10 to 15 - during which the jealous Medea summons the demons of hell to wreak vengeance on Jason and his lover - provide are the most dramatic and substantial excerpts on this disc. The rest of the programme is, as mentioned, rather bitty and disjointed, although the purely orchestral passages from Les Fêtes d’Hébé (tracks 23 to 27) are a pleasure to listen to. The forces of Les Arts Florissants get the chance to really shine in Rameau’s brilliant orchestration - from the deft subtlety of the Air Tendre (track 24) to the woodwind flourishes in the final Chaconne (track 27).

John-Pierre Joyce