Les Arts Florissants, Airs Sérieux et a Boire – Volume 2, Wigmore Hall, 4 April 2016

A concert of early French Baroque songs. They don’t come around in London all that often. I really wanted to hear and see this stuff.

Janie was not sure she wanted me to book this one, but when I said that I would go to see this one on my own rather than miss it, up went her hand asking me to procure a second ticket for her.

In truth, this stuff isn’t quite Janie’s thing; in some ways not mine either. Les Arts Florissants perform these Baroque songs semi-staged, putting various materials together into a thematic programme that feels a bit like an oratorio.

The centre piece of this programme is Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Amor Vince Ogni Cosa, but the evening is interspersed with songs by other composers; Etienne Moulinié, Michel Lambert & Sébastien Le Camus. Heck, click the link to see how Les Arts Florissants describe the programme on their own web site. 

Here is the Wigmore Hall Archive concert details.

The semi-staging is a bit twee and melodramatic. Janie quite enjoyed observing the audience in the interval, noting that most of the audience was similarly twee.

But the music is simply superb. Every one of the performers is a virtuoso. William Christie, the Godfather of Les Arts Florissants, singled out soprano Emmanuelle de Negi for special praise at the end of the concert.

I thought the young theorbo player was utterly exceptional, so was surprised not to find his name credited in the programme. A little bit of detective work, not least the Les Arts Florissants link above, reveals him to be Thomas Dunford, age 28. Here is a very interesting article about him and I agree totally that he is one to watch.

The other problem, from Janie’s point of view, was the very helpful surtitles, translating the song lyrics from French/Italian into English. This is a problem for Janie, because the subject matter of the songs is all nymphs, shepherds, unrequited love and such. She hates English Renaissance songs on such subjects but usually doesn’t realise that French and Italian songs of that period are similar naff topics.

I’m not sure why, but early Baroque songs sung in Italian always sound just a bit shouty, whereas the ones sung in French don’t, even if both are composed the same French composer; Marc-Antoine Charpentier for example. Perhaps he writes the ones to be sung in Italian in the Italian Baroque style. Not as shouty as Monteverdi, but still quite shouty.

Yet, in the hands of these wonderful musicians, even the elements that would normally irritate us are trifling details; it was a really lovely concert. The performers came back to perform two encores; both extracts from the eponymous Charpentier work, Les Arts Florissants. We’d have gladly stayed around for a third or fourth encore. A special evening.

The concert was broadcast live on Radio 3, btw. Janie couldn’t work out how the surtitles and semi-staging work for radio. I explained that they don’t but those are the elements she didn’t much like, so what’s not to like about the broadcast?  If you are reading this within a month of the concert, you can listen on BBC iPlayer by clicking this link here. There might still be some useful information on this link after a month, for all I know.




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