Wednesday 2 December 2009

Les Arts Florissants - Grands Motets

Last Thursday (sorry for the late posting) we went to the Barbican to see the final concert in Les Art Florissants 30th Birthday jamboree. The audience seemed to include rather more of the great and good than usual, reflection of the high status that this celebration has been achieving.

Whereas the earlier events had covered much of their more recent musical explorations, this concert went back to their roots presenting music by Rameau, Lully, Campra and Desmarest. What we got was 4 works, a Grand Motet by each composer. All were written for the same sort of ensemble, choir, group of soloists and orchestra with trumpets added for some movements.

All 4 composers used large groups of soloists with all 6 (Amel Brahim-Djelloul soprano, Emmanuelle de Negri soprano, Toby Spence tenor, Cyril Auvity tenor, Marc Mauillon baritone, Alain Buet bass) being employed in the final Lully Te Deum. Though there were solos, all composers used small groups of singers to contrast with the larger choir. In fact there was rather a lot of inevitable coming and going. You got the feeling that the original motets, written for sacred use, would probably have had the solo parts sung by choir members so that the division between solo, ensemble and choir was less obvious. It was a shame that this could not be done, but with the choir placed behind the large orchestra it was difficult to see how this could have been achieved on the rather limited Barbican stage.

Toby Spence's voice has darkened and grown larger since he regularly sang for William Christie (I remember him memorably in a performance of Rameau's Les Boreades some years ago), but he has not lost the flexibility and sang with great beauty even if he was slightly louder than ideal at times. Cyril Auvity sang the high tenor roles and the two of them had a number of memorable duets.

Though all four composers wrote music of interest, the palm surely goes to Rameau for his spectacular orchestrations in his motet, Deus Noster, with its depictions of tempests. The formal part of the evening concluded with Lully's very grand Te Deum, which uses two choirs as well as all 6 singers. But this was not the end. We got two encores, the second of which Tendre Amour from Les Indes Galantes was sung by everyone, with the soloists joining the choir. The result was sensuously beautiful and so romantic as to be incredible.

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