Consistently fresh and inventive, its hard to believe that Les Talens Lyriques is already 20 years old. Under the direction of its founder and harpsichordist Christophe Rousset, the vocal and instrumental ensemble made a welcome return to London for this lunchtime concert of French Baroque gems.
The short but neat programme fused the classic French style with that of the Italian tradition. At its centre was Jean-Baptiste Lullys scena for solo soprano, Ah Rinaldo! Dove sei? With its impassioned Italian text. Lully (who was, in fact, born Giovanni Battista Lulli in Florence) set aside the noble restraint so beloved of his patron, Louis XIV, and indulged in a passionate lament of abandoned love. Unfortunately, soprano Eugnie Warnier didnt quite convince as the desperate Armida. Her tone was a touch heavy, even stodgy in parts, and she appeared to be play acting at emotion rather than delivering it for real. The same lacklustre qualities hampered her interpretation of Michel Pignolet Montclairs cantata Morte di Lucretia. This was all the more disappointing given the fine instrumental support and the lively and engaging nature of the composers writing.
The ensemble was on much firmer ground with its interpretation of purely instrumental music by overlapping contemporaries Franois Couperin and Jean-Phillipe Rameau. Out of Couperins set of suites Les Nations, Rousset chose the Italianate La Pimontoise to showcase the refining qualities of the French Baroque masters over popular dance rhythms. The final handful of movements was especially well played, with technical ability of a very high standard on display. Rameaus Pices de Clavecin en Concerts perfectly demonstrate the composers wit, inventiveness and practicality. Here, harpsichord and viola da gamba were joined by pairs of violins and flutes in the first Concert. Although there was some blurring between the viola da gamba and sole violin in the first movement, the final two depicting rustic villages balanced all the players with perfect poise and elegance.