Marc-Antoine Charpentier, the French Baroque composer, is performed by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants with utmost skill and sensitivity. The attention to detail and scale allows the listener to hear what the aristocracy of Louis XIV's France would have enjoyed. Charpentier is known primarily as a composer of sacred music which was due to his appointments and patronage which included the pious Mademoiselle de Guise, then appointments as music master at the Church of St. Louis in Paris, then as music master for the chapel of the Grand Dauphin, and then as music master for Sainte-Chapelle.
The greatest number of his works, around 500, is sacred music but he also
composed in other genres, examples of which are found on this excellent CD. It is noteworthy that he also collaborated with Moliere's Troupe du Roy company. The three selections here are operatic but have a single act and are less than a half hour in length. The themes of these selections are the arts and pleasures of leisure. There is some acknowledgement of the greatness of the king but these pass briefly and do not constitute a major theme. It is thought that the Pleasures of Versailles was written for private performance before the king in his royal apartments since the lyrics at one point address him directly.
Music and Conversation argue in the Pleasures of Versailles as to which is the most pleasurable and they are mediated with chocolate pastries and wine. This doesn't work but eventually everyone is reconciled. The lyrics are witty but the soprano Music and the mezzo-soprano Conversation are exceptional. They are joined by Comus, a baritone, and Games, a tenor.
A passage from Le Cid is sung by Paul Agnew. Agnew is exceptional, both perfectly controlled and expressive. The speaker in this selection is Don Rodrigo, a Spanish national hero, who is in a difficult situation since the murderer of his father turns out to be the father of his beloved.
Pastoralettta, a work in Italian, begins with a wonderful two soprano passage
followed by Paul Agnew's response. It is not to have been intended for the stage, it is brief, but was meant for only five singers with minimal accompaniment. The story is of two young women, one of which has a lamb pursued by a wolf and the other is pursed herself by a bear. They appeal to Pan who tells them that their shepherd admirers will save them and they should be rewarded with love.