Les Arts Florissants: Airs sÈrieux et ‡ boire

The career of singer and theorbo player Michel Lambert may be a mere
footnote to that of his more prominent son-in-law, Jean-Baptiste Lully, but it
was Lambert who — having initially arrived at the court as a ballet dancer
— served the King as Maitre de la Musique de la Chambre du Roi for 36 years
until his death in 1696. Working in collaboration with Lully, the King’s
perennial favourite, Lambert devised and produced lavish entertainments — the
imposing dramatic works and church compositions that we most readily associate
with the monarch’s reign. But, in addition, he also composed approximately
300 songs, numbers which are often self-consciously idealistic or sardonically
witty — fodder to flatter the monarch and his fawning courtiers.

Adopting a quasi-operatic approach, Les Arts Florissants, almost
imperceptibly directed from the harpsichord by William Christie, interspersed
Lambert’s airs with songs by his contemporaries — Marc-Antoine
Charpentier, FranÁois Couperin, Joseph Chabanceau de la Barre and HonorÈ
d’Ambruys — weaving a seamless dramatic thread. They thus enacted an
inventive, exuberant tale of love, lust and loyalty, in which the wedding plans
of soprano Emmanuelle de Negri and baritone Marc Mauillon were interrupted by
the amorous interventions of tenor Cyril Auvity and mezzo soprano Anna
Reinhold, with bass Lisandro Abadie wryly commenting on the occasionally
dissolute goings-on.

The air de cour was eventually subsumed by the rising tide of
French opera; perhaps Les Art Florissants were arguing for the significance of
Lambert’s dramatic airs in the development of the French opera
tradition that would come to fruition at the hands of Lully and Rameau.
Thus, the musical delights were served up as theatrical feast
for our delectation, highlighting not the individual nature of each song, but
linking the parts in a continuous progression. This ‘staging’ did have the
advantage of introducing some variety — of pace, context and texture — into
a series of songs which are broadly consistent in idiom and ambience, and also
allowed for broader musical sweeps without the interruptions of audience

Yet, often the playful antics — lovelorn swooning, secret embraces —
seemed distracting and unnecessary. These courtly airs are intimate and subtle,
rather than self-indulgently theatrical. Rick Jones’s programme notes suggest
that in the satirical airs ‡ boire the essence can be reduced to the
mocking maxim, ‘Love is pain, therefore kill me’. But, it seems to me that
there is a closer relationship between the poetry and its musical expression:
that the sentiments of these melancholy, at times explicit, lyric poems —
which admittedly do frequently express the anguish of the spurned or dejected
lover, one who is almost without hope — are those of genuine loss and regret.
Too much tom-foolery risks diminishing the unaffected emotional intensity
conveyed by Lambert’s polished style in which, through scrupulous
repetitions, elegant ornamentations and affecting chromaticism, text, voices
and instruments fuse inseparably.

However, this misgiving aside (and judging from the audience’s jubilant
reception, I suspect my reservations were shared by few!), musical standards
were unwaveringly superb, voices and instruments in perfect balance. In
Lambert’s ‘Le repos, l’ombre, le silence’ (Stillness, gloom, silence)
the simplicity of the airy texture, with treble and bass lines widely spaced,
emphasised the confidential, complicit mood; while the intertwining voices in
‘Ah, qui voudra dÈsormais s’engager’ (Ah, who now will ever wish to
pledge his love?) and ‘Il faut mourir plutÙt que de changer’ (’Tis
better to die than e’er to change) created restless exigency. Auvity’s solo
rendition of Lambert’s ‘Iris n’est plus’ revealed an expressive
flexibility in tone, rhythm and response to the text that provided an engaging
contrast to the more homogeneous approach of the other singers, who tended
towards an open, full and even style of delivery — undoubtedly beautiful but
rather more ‘operatic’, projecting outwards, than Auvity’s beguiling
manner of drawing the audience in.

Reinhold and Mauillon gave a deeply moving performance of ‘Le doux silence
de nos bois’ (The soft silence of the woods) by HonorÈ d’Ambruys. Above
the repeating rising bass line, the mezzo soprano’s opulent legato radiantly
embraced the ornate melodic line while the tenor provided sweet yet more grainy
foundations, suggesting in the first stanza the happiness of youth, ‘the time
for tender loves and pleasures’ and, in the second, the gentle melancholy of

Compositions by Marc-Antoine Charpentier introduced a lighter, more ribald
tone, most particularly in ‘IntermËdes nouveaux du Mariage forcÈ’,
incidental music for MoliËre’s farcical drama Le Mariage force in
which the elegant rhythms of the minuet and gavotte were overwhelmed by the
grotesque antics of the three male singers as Charpentier parodies the
theatrical style and excesses of his Italian rivals. Auvity, Mauillon and
Abadie delighted in the parodic vein, their ‘belle symphonie’ a mocking
medley of onomatopoeic whelps and woofs; joined by de Negri and Reinhold, they
formed parodic homage to the Soul of Music and Genius of Harmony aloft in the
Wigmore Hall cupola, an ironic visual accompaniment to Charpentier’s final
line: ‘Oh! Le jolie concert et la belle harmonie!’

William Christie’s ever-urbane accompaniments — all stylish grace notes
and refined countermelodies — were never intrusive. Theorbo player, Thomas
Dunford displayed effortless virtuosity, and for once the instrument’s
intricacies were clearly audible, a superb balance being maintained throughout.
Complementing Dunford’s agile embellishments, the string lines of Myriam
Rignol (viola da gamba) and violinists Florence Malgoire and Tami Troman
entwined tastefully and lamentingly with the voices. The rhythmic suppleness of
Rignol’s varying chaconne line in the two-part air, ‘Quand une ‚me est
bien atteinte’ (Once a soul is captivated) wonderfully captured the changes
of affekt.

The only air employing all five voices was the final song by Lambert, a
setting of Jean de la Fontaine’s ‘Tout l’Univers obÈit ‡
‘l’amour’ in which de Negri’s pure soprano soared above the other
voices before all came to rest with the fittingly homophonous closing line,
‘Aimez, aimez le reste n’est rien’.

Claire Seymour

Performers and programme:

William Christie, director; Emmanuelle de Negri, soprano; Anna
Reinhold, mezzo-soprano; Cyril Auvity, high tenor; Marc Mauillon, baritone;
Lisandro Abadie, bass. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 19th December

Lambert, ‘D’un feu secret je me sens consommer’, ‘Le repos,
l’ombre, le silence’, ‘Ah! qui voudra dÈsormais s’engager?’, ‘Il
faut mourir plustost que de changer’; Couperin, ‘…pitaphe d’un
paresseux’, ‘Les Pellerines’; Lambert, ‘Iris n’est plus’, ‘Bien
que l’amour’; Chabanceau de la Barre, ‘Quand une ‚me est bien
atteinte’; Charpentier, ‘IntermËde nouveau from Le Mariage
’; Lambert, ‘Chantez, chantez petits oiseaux’, ‘Pour vos
beaux yeux, Iris’, ‘Que d’amans separez languissent nuit et jour;
d’Ambruys, ‘Le doux silence de nos bois’; Charpentier, ‘Ayant bu du vin
clairet’, ‘AuprËs du feu l’on fait l’amour, ‘Vos petits yeux’;
Lambert, ‘Jugez de ma douleur’, ‘Il est vrai, l’amour est charmant’,
‘Tout l’univers obÈit ‡ l’Amour’.

image_description=Michel Lambert [Source: Wikipedia]
product_title=Les Arts Florissants: Airs sÈrieux et ‡ boire
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Michel Lambert [Source: Wikipedia]