WORKS: Andromède; Le ballet de Polieucte
PERFORMER: New Chamber Opera, The Band of Instruments/Gary Cooper
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 303
However much we may be inclined to lament the operas Charpentier was prevented from writing, we can rejoice in the theatre music and small-scale dramas he did manage to produce. Lully’s ruthless monopoly on major musical theatre in the first half of Louis XIV’s reign stifled much excellent opera, but Charpentier had his supporters and practised his trade with consummate skill, as this new issue shows. The New Chamber Opera has done an inestimable service in releasing a new performance of Charpentier’s music for Andromède, a vocal ballet with spectacular scenic effects, and for the first time the dances for a Jesuit allegorical play based on Corneille’s Polyeucte.
All of the music in these two suites is enjoyable, though at times one wishes Charpentier had more scope than the rather restricted frame dictated by Lully to produce drama of real power – he was certainly capable of it as we know from Medée, his one full-length tragédie. There is a great deal of expertise underpinning these performances, and the vocal numbers are very handsome with notable contributions from the soprano Rachel Elliott and the tenor James Gilchrist. Too often, however, the instrumental numbers lack flair, resulting in an anthology that has abundant interest but only sporadic excitement. Jan Smaczny