WORKS: Les divertissements de Versailles: excerpts from Psyché, Armide,
PERFORMER: Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-44655-2
This delightful anthology aims and succeeds with distinction in providing a conspectus of Lully’s theatre music; it also shows clearly why his adaptable talents so dominated French music in the second half of the 17th century. On display are excerpts from court entertainments, collaborations with Molière, and Lully’s crowning achievement, tragédies lyriques, the form of opera he established as the norm for the French Baroque. The music is excellently chosen, from the clangorous overture to ‘machine play’ Psyché to the extensive operatic excerpts; these range widely and include music from one of Lully’s most colourful scores, Isis, including the celebrated ‘shivering’ chorus which so inspired Purcell, as well as arguably his greatest drama, Armide. Particularly impressive are Pan’s lament from Isis and Roland’s mad scene from the eponymous opera, magnificently sung by Olivier Lallouette.
As one would expect from such experienced forces, the performances are a convincing mix of the idiomatic and the dramatic. The instrumental ensemble, kaleidoscopic in colour, is superb, flexible in accompaniment and unfailingly together. The only blemishes comprise an occasional rough edge in the vocal contributions and a rather tepid reading of the exchanges between Renaud and Armide. Jan Smaczny