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This latest recording from the Boston Early Music Festival contains two dramatic pieces by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. La Couronne de Fleurs is the earlier of them and, to the best of my knowledge, has not previously been commercially recorded. The other, La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers, exists in a single earlier version by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants (Harmonia Mundi). La Couronne de Fleurs is a pastoral drama whose music derives in the main from that which Charpentier composed for Molière’s comédie-ballet Le Malade imaginaire (1673). The text is rather inconsequential, but the music is beguiling with some attractive word-painting.

La Descente d’Orphée is an altogether more substantial piece, though its two surviving acts might suggest that Charpentier had in mind a fully-fledged tragédie en musique. Like La Couronne de Fleurs, the Orpheus legend was intended for the modest resources of the musical establishment of the Duchesse de Guise of which Charpentier was for a time a member. It is sad to think either that he never completed the work or that something substantial has been lost, for his treatment of the story which never fully unfolds is sensitive, profoundly melancholy and intimate. Orpheus’s grief, echoed by the chorus at the conclusion of Act 1 is heartrending and eloquently declaimed by tenor Aaron Sheehan. This is no minor work but one of stature, which at times comfortably matches Charpentier’s greatest achievements in the dramatic sphere. All is sung and played with stylish assurance and expressive sensibility under directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs.

Nicholas Anderson Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing