Happy Birthday in Madrid to William Christie and Les Arts Florissants on their Baroque Odyssey tour

SpainSpain A Baroque Odyssey – Handel, Purcell, Charpentier, D’Ambruis, Lully, Rameau: Sandrine Piau (soprano), Lea Desandre (mezzo-soprano), Marcel Beekman (tenor), Christophe Dumaux (countertenor), Marc Mauillon (baritone), Lisandro Abadie (bass-baritone), Les Arts Florissants / William Christie and Paul Agnew (conductors). Auditorio Nacional de Música, Madrid, 15.12.2019. (JMI)

Les Arts Florissants (c) CNDM Elvira Megías

There is no question that Les Arts Florissants, founded by William Christie, is one of the best Baroque ensembles of recent years. To celebrate their fortieth anniversary, they’ve organized A Baroque Odyssey, a concert tour that includes Madrid in the schedule.

Forty years is an important span for a musical group, and one hopes to continue enjoying their interpretations for many years to come – as we did in this concert. The program was split between the English Baroque and works by Handel and Purcell, and the French Baroque with pieces by Charpentier, D’Ambruis, Lully and, of course, Rameau, whose music dominated much of the second half of the concert.

William Christie was the principal conductor, with Paul Agnew sharing that position for part of the program. There is little that one can say about William Christie which is not known by every music lover. I would simply state that he has been and continues to be one of the great conductors of recent years. May God keep him for us for years to come. His conducting was simply masterful here, and I must also praise what Paul Agnew offered. Les Arts Florissants is composed of a magnificent orchestra and an extraordinary chorus, and they joined in giving their best.

All of the soloists had voices that were eminently suited to this music, and soprano Sandrine Piau deserves special praise. She began with the well-known aria from Alcina, ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’, and sang the duet ‘Bramo aver mille vite’ from Ariodante with gusto, accompanied by young mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre. I should also mention her contribution at the end of the concert’s first half, joining the chorus in a song from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. It was she who opened the second part of the concert with a recitative by Marc Antoine Charpentier, and in the final selection of the concert she was splendid in the pieces from two Rameau operas, Platée and Les Indes galantes.

Lea Desandre also made a fine impression, although her parts were less important than those of her colleague. She has an attractive, well-managed voice, and was excellent in the aria ‘Scherza infida’ from Ariodante.

Marcel Beekman is what can be called a character tenor, with an acceptable voice but truly remarkable expressiveness. His deliveries were always well received, especially the mocking aria from Rameau’s Platée which he played dressed as a woman – and won a great ovation.

I was somewhat disappointed by Christophe Dumaux, and remembered his voice as being more impressive. Marc Mauillon did well in his various interventions, and bass-baritone Lisandro Abadie dealt with one of the longest parts of the concert as the character Huascar in Les Indes galantes.

The auditorium was sold out, and the public gave the artists an enthusiastic ovation. William Christie led two encores in which soloists, chorus and orchestra participated, from Rameau’s La naissance d’Osiris and Charpentier’s Les arts florissants. As the Italians would say, the concert ended in bellezza.

José M. Irurzun 

For Chris Sallon’s earlier review of the same concert at the London’s Barbican Hall click here.

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