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GRAMOPHONE (11/2019)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Having recently welcomed the first interpretation of Les arts Florissants to have been recorded for nearly 40 years, within a few months here is another. The chamber ensemble of the Boston Early Music Festival constitutes a number of musicians close to the probable forces Charpentier had at his disposal at the household of his patron the Mademoiselle de Guise in 1685. La Musique is declaimed elegantly by Teresa Wakim, Poetry is sung articulately by Molly Netter and Painting is navigated mellifluously by Aaron Sheehan, who duets with Virginia Warnken’s solemn Architecture. Amid explaining how they glorify Louis XIV, the four flourishing arts also placate a chorus of rowdy warriors (their gentle relief at hearing Music’s celestial harmony is judged sweetly by the small ensemble of singers). The rude interruption of Jesse Blumberg’s extrovert Discord and the Furies (brought to theatrical life by witchy nasal hamming-up from the chorus) has transparent delight from the entire ensemble at the unsettling displacement of rhythmical stresses; this sophisticated portrayal of anti-artistic philistinism is banished by Margot Rood’s firmly authoritative Peace. Poetry’s restoration of the cultivated idyll contains beautifully played minuets, and the concluding chaconne praising the arts has softly sensuous harmonic clarity.

The Bostonians also perform Les plaisirs de Versailles, recorded by Christie over 20 years ago, although there is also a DVD of a Versailles production by Les Folies Françoises (Armide, 2005). Probably created for the royal apartments soon after 1682, perhaps for the amusement of the Dauphin (who was one of Charpentier’s patrons), the divertissement is a witty allegory of an evening’s pleasures at Versailles. A quarrel between the refined Music and the babbling Conversation is mediated by Comus (the god of feasting), who offers the opponents delicious hot chocolate, wine and food, but to little avail. Le Jeu (Games) fares no better with his diversions. Nevertheless, the bickering pair are reconciled amid an outburst of laughter; onlooking ‘Pleasures’ who have been switching sides with each disputant now express gentle satisfaction at the outcome. Charpentier’s manuscript tells us it should last half an hour, so Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs’s pacing is spot-on. Wakim’s La Musique fluctuates between beguiling poeticism and irritation at Warnken’s aristocratic La Conversation, who cannot sit in silence. Blumberg’s Comus is a genteel connoisseur of delicacies, whereas Jason McStoots’s Le Jeu is a playful trickster. Throughout the charming performances of both divertissements, captivating interplay between superb instrumentalists, articulate solo voices and choruses of refined intimacy are de rigueur.

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