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<<  -- 3 --  Robert Hugill    RADIANTLY MUSICAL


For the second half of the concert, the dramatic temperature was raised. La Descente d'Orphée opened with the stylised flowers from the first half, but this time the musicians did have seats though they played standing up. The opera opens with the pastoral celebrations for the impending marriage of Orphée, Paul Agnew in stunning form, and Eurydice, Sophie Daneman, radiant as ever in what is quite a small role. Eurydice picks flowers for her wedding garland and is fatally bitten by the snake. We not only see her dying in a moving scene, but she has a short, powerful duet with Orphée. From this moment the opera takes on a darker tinge. Flowers are cleared away and Paul Agnew gives us a powerful lament. For the rest of the opera, the drama remained centred on his strong musical and dramatic performance. His voice has developed into a very full blooded instrument but he remains stylishly true to Charpentier's music and his presence lifted La Descente d'Orphée onto an entirely different dramatic plain to Les Arts Florissants.

Encouraged by his father Apollon, an impressive Nicola Rivenq, Orphée descends to the underworld. There he encounters the permanently suffering Tantale (Jean-Yves Ravoux), Ixion (Cyril Auvity) and Titye (Nicola Rivenq again). The three sing a wondrous trio where Charpentier supports the voices with some strikingly dark instrumental timbres. Their sufferings are relieved by Orphée's singing. Acting as his lyre, Charpentier has two obbligato bass viols which creates a series of remarkable timbres. Pluton, an impressive if underpowered Joao Fernandes, is unimpressed but his wife Proserpine, an elegant and stylish Olga Pitarch, is powerfully moved. Orphée's repeated monologues, stunningly sung by Agnew, gradually move Pluton who allows Orphée and Eurydice to depart though Charpentier gives them no dialogue. The music ends with the Shades' lovely plea for Orphée to remain with them for ever.

There the opera ends. It could well be a fragment of a bigger work, but the piece works in itself. In France, at the time, it was not uncommon to treat excerpts from classical myth in chamber works. After all, everyone knew what was going to happen.

This was a superb performance which fittingly celebrated the group's twenty fifth anniversary -- if only the stage director had been a little more restrained. As an encore they gave us part of the closing section of Les Arts Florissants and truly seemed fresh enough to have given us the entire programme all over again.

Copyright © 24 January 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK




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