Les Talens Lyrique, Choeur de chambre de Namur, Christophe Rousset
Aparte AP135. 2CDs. 75’+74′
In sharp contrast to the pared down version of Lully’s Armide I reviewed here, this CD is the real thing, in a stunning performance by Les Talens Lyrique under Christophe Rousset, with a fine cast of soloists and the Choeur de chambre de Namur in support. It is a live recording of a concert given in the Grande Salle Pierre Boulez of the Philharmonie de Paris in December 2015, although there is no evidence of an audience or other extraneous noises that I could hear.
Armide was first performed in 1686 by the Paris Opera in the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. It was based on Tasso’s 1581 tale of love and magic set in the Crusades. The subject matter was chosen by Louis XIV, although he didn’t attend the premiere or any of the subsequent performances, apparently because of a scandal involving Lully and a young male musician but also possibly because of increasing tension between Lully and the other Court musicians. It was one of Lully’s last operas and was to form the culmination of his development of the tragédie en musique genre. It also delved into the psychological development of the characters to an extent not previously attempted, in particular, that of the sorceress Armide.
One of the best features of this performance is the instrumental colour that Christophe Rousset draws from his own Les Talens Lyrique. Lully’s distinctive use of woodwind, in particular, the flutes, recorders, and bassoon as well as his use of the six-part strings, with first and second violins, haute-contre de violon, taille de violon, cellos and basses. THe continuo group has a viola da gamba, basse de violon, lute and guitar, two harpsichords and organ. My only minor point of concern with the continuo is the almost inevitable one where the director also accompanies on the harpsichord, that his continuo realisations are too loud and too complex.
The title role is key to the success of any performance of Armide, and Marie-Adeline Henry excels, bringing an emotional intensity and power to that role. Antonio Figueroa’s wonderfully clear haute-contre voice is ideal for the role of Renaud. Of the singers of the minor roles, many singing several roles, I particularly liked Marie-Claude Chappuis, first appearing as La Sagesse in the Prologue, and later as Sidonie and Lucinde. Also impressive were Douglas Williams as Hidraot, Marc Mauillon as Aronte and Hate, and Cyril Auvity as the Danish Knight. There is a bit of an issue, for me at least, with excessive vibrato from some of the singers, starting with the very first appearance of La Gloire. The chorus singing from the Choeur de chambre de Namur was impressive. Les Talens Lyrique were particularly effective in the many dance movements littered throughout the score.
An impressive recording of a fine musical drama.