Lully in the 17th
century and Rameau in the 18th
century have generally been regarded as the foremost French baroque composers. During the last few decades the growing interest in baroque music has tempted musicians to explore some of the byways and come up with fascinating finds. The most important of those may be Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Most European TV viewers have been familiar with at least one of his works, all the way since 1954 when the EBU picked the opening fanfare from his Te Deum
as their signature tune. It was not, however, until the some thirty years ago that his works became more common fare. Today his reputation is almost on a par with that of Lully.
Michel Lambert may be a new name to many readers. In his day he was known as a singing master, but also as a composer of ‘tunes’ as Wikipedia puts it. Incidentally his daughter Madeleine married Lully in 1662 so there were links between the two musicians. As opposed to Lully, Charpentier and Rameau he wrote no operas but listening to his airs with modern ears his style of writing isn’t too far removed from Charpentier or Lully. The tunes are easy on the ear and not too memorable but, honestly, how many walk around humming songs by the other French baroque masters? That he was a technically skilled singer is obvious from the richly decorated vocal line and no one can deny that he catches the melancholy atmosphere of the title song Ombre de mon amant
Charpentier’s music is often dramatically effective. The prelude that opens Noires filles du Styx
(tr. 10) and the chorus of Jealousy, Vengeance and Demons (tr. 11) is truly hefty. Hippolyte et Aricie
has claims to be Rameau’s best opera, even though some prefer Castor et Pollux.
Though the music is sometimes chopped up and performed in random order – or so it seems to me – the power and beauty of it makes it a total pleasure, especially when performed with such professionalism and dedication.
Anne Sofie von Otter’s voice is still in excellent shape, her technical accomplishment as usual stunning and her sense of style infallible. She started her solo career as a baroque singer and this disc, together with her previous Bach recital
, mark her return to her roots. Working with William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants she can’t have a better guide in this repertoire, Christie one of the pioneers in bringing Charpentier’s music before the public. The playing of the orchestra – at very low pitch a¹=400Hz – is characteristically homogenous and with springy rhythms. The choir sounds uncommonly large by the way, considering how few they really are: 4-3-3-4. In the Médée
excerpts there are some stylish solo contributions from members of the chorus. That Ms Von Otter has approached this project with a serious mind is obvious from the credits in the booklet, where she ‘wishes to thank Emmanuelle Haim, Marc Minkowski and Leonardo Garcia Alarcón for their guidance in her exploration of the French Baroque repertoire’. With a recording that leaves nothing else to be desired this in every way a high quality product that no lover of Baroque vocal music should miss.