In September, Monteverdi’s Orfeo was given the full trashy makeover (although ‘under’ would be more appropriate) at the Barbican, staged as a Mafiosi wedding; at the Wigmore on Thursday, we had another example of seventeeth-century masterpieces set in a similar, though mercifully much more tasteful style, the framework being that of a wedding where the bride and groom are both involved with others, for varying but surely unimportant reasons. The music was composed for the court of the Sun King, and mostly concerned itself with the paradoxical nature of love; it was all delicately done, and of course directed from the harpsichord by William Christie with his customary wit and panache.
You could not wish for finer singing or playing than the capacity (and extremely enthusiastic) audience experienced. Glyndebourne and Aix regulars may well be familiar with Emmanuelle de Negri’s clarion-bright, expressive tones, Cyril Auvity’s elegant phrasing and fluent articulation and Lisandro Abadie’s fine-grained bass-baritone. Less familiar, but equally exciting, were the sweet-toned mezzo of Anna Reinhold and the lyrical baritone of Marc Mauillon, surely both stars in the making.
The instrumental ensemble was a delight; Christie’s sparkling keyboard, the dancing, swooping violins of Florence Malgoire and Tami Troiman, the burnished sound of Myriam Rignol’s viola da gamba, and most of all Thomas Dunford’s nimble, joyful theorbo provided constant pleasure, whatever gallimaufry was being enacted around them.
The performance was at its best when the music was allowed to speak for itself: thus, Honoré d’Ambruys’ ‘Le doux silence de nos bois’ was exquisitely sung by Maillon and Reinhold, the closing ‘C’est le temps des plaisirs et des tenders amours’ falling sweetly upon the ear. Auvity’s performance of Lambert’s ‘Iris n’est plus’ was similarly fine, and the closing ‘Tout l’Univers obéit à l’Amour’ showed the whole ensemble at its best.
This is mostly elegant, courtly music, the bulk of it composed by the singer and lutenist who was in charge of King Louis’ private music – Michel Lambert, who also happens to have been the father-in-law of Jean-Baptiste Lully. When most of us think of this musical period, the name of Lully is far more familiar to us, yet this very intimate, small-scale music is as representative of its time as that composer’s grander works. William Christie has always championed this style of music and he scored another success with this evening, described by one audience member as “The best concert I’ve ever heard.”
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.