Charpentier: La descente d’Orphée aux enfers

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Charpentier
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: La descente d’Orphée aux enfers
PERFORMER: Sophie Daneman, Paul Agnew, Patricia Petibon, Monique Zanetti, Katalin Károlyi; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-11913-2 DDD
This excellent recording of Charpentier’s version of Orfeo’s pursuit into Hades of Euridice can only enhance his stature as a musical dramatist. Although his miniature reworking of Baroque opera’s favourite story, composed in 1686 to 1687 for his patroness the Duchesse de Guise, doesn’t have the dramatic sweep of his tragedy Médée, on its own terms it is virtually perfect. Indeed, it must count as one of the most beautiful scores of the late 17th century. Charpentier’s melodious, flexible word-setting is far more expressive than that of his oppressive contemporary Lully, and his harmonic and melodic language is ideally suited to the abundant moments of poignant crisis – just listen to Orphée’s appeals to Pluton in the second act and the desolation of the chorus at the end of the first.

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William Christie’s ensemble works wonders, with some especially captivating bass viol playing. Paul Agnew could hardly be bettered as Orphée in a cast which is without exception strong and clearly at home in Charpentier’s expressive world. Occasional moments of vocal ensemble are not as neat as they might be, and careful listeners will note a missing verse in the libretto on track 16, but generally this well prepared issue is entirely successful. Jan Smaczny