Lully: Armide

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Armide
PERFORMER: Guillemette Laurens, Howard Crook, Véronique Gens, Noémi Rime, Bernard Deletré, Gilles Ragon; Choir & Orchestra of the Collegium Vocale and La Chapelle Royale/Philippe Herreweghe
The music historian Charles Burney wrote of Lully’s operas: ‘The airs, choruses and dances are so easy and natural, that it is hardly possible fora lover of Music… to hear them frequently performed, without remembering them.’ Yet only one opera was available complete on record before this fine performance of Armide, arguably Lully’s best.


The singers are first-rate. Guillemette Laurens is a subtle Armide, not merely evil-minded, but arousing pity as the victim of false love created through her own sorcery. Howard Crook (Renaud) is equally convincing as valiant knight and lyrical spellbound lover. But the overriding impression is of the rhythmic vitality which Herreweghe generates, not only in airs, choruses and dances, but throughout the measured récit, the ‘speaking in music’ which the French treated so sensitively compared with perfunctory Italian recitative. And the orchestral playing of the splendidly colourful score is crisp and springy. You’re swept along through the dances and accompanied songs by the lilting dotted rhythms.


On disc, of course, the spectacle – of entrancing scenery, dancing, acting, costume – is lost. Yet the French always have a gift for creating magical atmosphere and here the music alone is enough to suspend both belief and time – for nearly 15 minutes in the great Passacaille with which Armide’s spirits entertain Renaud and Lully entertained the king and Parisian high society. George Pratt