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4.1.11

Twelve Days of Christmas: Charpentier's 'Actéon'

available at Amazon
Charpentier, Actéon / Orphée descendant aux enfers / La pierre philosophale, A. Sheehan, T. Wakim, Boston Early Music Festival, P. O'Dette, S. Stubbs

(released on November 16, 2010)
cpo 777 613-2 | 66'19"
While this recent Baroque release did not strike my fancy enough to make the Best of 2010 list, it is certainly worth some brief remarks on its own. CPO's series of operas from the Boston Early Music Festival continues this year: we have already accorded high praise to their releases of Lully's Psyché (2008) and Thésée (2007). This new disc, recorded in 2009 by Radio Bremen, combines three unusual secular works by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, headlined by the concise pastoral work Actéon, whose story and focus on hunting themes mean it was likely intended for the entertainment of a hunting party. The delight in the hunt is palpable in the infectious opening chorus of the hunters, Allons, marchons, courons, hâtons nos pas!, and this has hardly changed in our own time, except for the technology involved. Authorities in Wisconsin reported that during the state's recently concluded nine-day season, an incredible 218,144 deer (!) were shot. Actéon, after his metamorphosis into a stag, would have stood even less a chance these days.

There is much to praise, both in the singing (especially the clean, light sound of tenor Aaron Sheehan in the title role) and the delightful playing, enlivened by the rhythmically effervescent strumming of theorbists Stephen Stubbs and Paul O'Dette in the continuo section, as well as bright, diverting percussion played by Marie-Ange Petit. William Christie recorded Actéon in the 1980s, with Les Arts Florissants, a recording that was re-released just last year (probably no coincidence). You could save yourself a few dollars with that older recording, and it has just as much to recommend it as the new one from Boston (some of Christie's interpretative choices make the Boston performance sound a little bloodless, and the French pronunciation is better). The major difference is that Christie cast a countertenor in the title role, the gifted Dominique Visse, but Sheehan's voice is the more pleasing one. Christie pairs this short work with the intermède for Molière's Le mariage forcé, while the Boston group opts for Charpentier's cantata Orphée descendant aux enfers and his musical scene for Thomas Corneille's play La pierre philosophale. While Les Arts Florissants recorded the latter work (in a still exemplary disc of Charpentier's divertissements, airs, and concerts), this is the first complete recording of the Orphée work (H. 171) to reach my ears.

1 comment:

doug said...

Nice piece. I was imagining that the Christie was re-released in concert with the recent performances of Acteon under his baton, including in a spectacular pairing with Purcell's Dido at BAM in NYC this past March.