Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Les Arts Florissants delight a Wigmore Hall audience with the music of the court of Louis XIII

23 October 2022

Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall (Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

A concert to remind us that it didn’t just get going with the Sun King!

While there are plenty of opportunities to hear music associated with the reign of Louis XIV, that from the era that preceded his rule is not performed with anywhere near the same frequency. This concert from Les Arts Florissants, directed by William Christie, was therefore a welcome reminder of the wonderful pieces that could be heard during the time of his father Louis XIII who acceded to the throne in 1610 and governed until his death in 1643.

Although the vast majority of the concert was focused on just one composer, Pierre Guédron (c.1570-1620), the quality and beauty of the music spoke for itself. Guédron was the Maître des enfants de la musique during Louis’ boyhood, and director of all secular entertainments once he became King. He published 6 albums of airs de cour and it was his songs, which also derived from the 11 ballets he wrote, that formed the backbone to the evening.

With the music delivered as a virtually continuous stream in each half, the concert felt like a piece of courtly entertainment in its own right. 17th century audiences are unlikely to have heard the combination of pieces that was presented here, although Guédron may have included solo and ensemble arrangements in the same programme, and would not have sat completely silent in neat rows. Nevertheless, the presentation helped to draw listeners in to such an extent that it was very easy for them to feel transported to another time and place.

Les Arts Florissants comprised seven players including Christie who conducted from the harpsichord, while the singing was delivered by soprano Emmanuelle de Negri, high-tenor Cyril Auvity, baritone Marc Mauillon and bass Lisandro Abadie. The evening began with a song composed by Louis XIII himself, ‘Tu crois, ô beau soleil’, which was published as a keyboard piece in 1636 and presented here in both versions.

“…the quality and beauty of the music spoke for itself”

William Christie

William Christie

The remainder of the first half was devoted to Guédron. It included solos, quartets and quintets and the pieces were played without pause as the introductory music to each provided the perfect link to the next item. ‘Espirits qu’un fol amour aux voluptés inspire’, published twice in 1608 and 1613, accuses love of being an idol rather than a god, and saw the singers present three of the four verses as solos. ‘Grand Roi qui portes en tous lieux’ that followed comes from a ballet for Louis’ queen, Anne of Austria, which was performed at their wedding when both were 14, and describes how a king is ensnared by love.

Both pieces sounded divine but the concert was taken to another level by ‘Quel excès de douleur en cet éloignement’, possibly Guédron’s final work. Here soprano Emmanuelle de Negri went solo with her rounded sound feeling both beautiful and impassioned, but never being laid on so thick that it obscured the accuracy that underlay all she delivered. De Negri soon followed up with an equally sublime performance of ‘O Dieux! quel est le sort dont je suis poursuivie?’, from the 1617 ballet La Délivrance de Renault, which she began seated. Other highlights of the first half included ‘Hé bien ma rebelle’, which has the hallmarks of a drinking song and saw each of the men attempt to woo the soprano (who finally chose the high-tenor), and the instrumental pieces ‘Vois-je pas un soleil s’élevant’ (1613) and ‘Enfin le juste ciel à mes vœux pitoyable’ (1618).

Although there was variation throughout the evening, overall the second half included more light hearted and obviously entertaining pieces. It began with the four singers running on and hushing the audience for ‘Allez, courez, churches de toutes parts’ because, in line with the song, they were searching for the haughty Renault. Another standout performance came from bass Lisandro Abadie who in his solo ‘Si le Parler et le silence’ (1608) revealed a lovely tone and notable stage presence.

The second half also included a suite of dances by the earlier composers Claude Gervaise (fl.1540-1560) and Estienne du Tertre (fl.1540-1570), which revealed a combination of the contemplative and overtly rhythmic. Within them two further songs by Guédron appeared, and the first of these was ‘A Paris sur petit pont’ (1602). It is a light-hearted creation about, among other things, pigeon pie, and the verses form a chain as the last line of one becomes the first of the next. It was, however, performed immaculately as the singers, who sang completely a cappella (though the lutenists tapped on their instruments), remained extremely tight throughout. Alongside the more fun numbers, however, the second half also included its fair share of exquisite pieces. Chief among them were ‘Puisqu’il faut désormais’ (1608) and ‘Il est temps désormais que le ciel et la terre’ (1615), which rounded off the main programme and ensured that this evening of divine music, delivered so very beautifully by Les Arts Florissants, will live long in the memory.

• For details of all Les Arts Florissants’ recordings and upcoming events visit its website.

• For details of all upcoming concerts at the Wigmore Hall visit its website.

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Les Arts Florissants delight a Wigmore Hall audience with the music of the court of Louis XIII