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Another interesting novelty is Lully’s Armide, but not as you may know it. This is Armide 1778, so not as the composer heard it as its premiére in 1686, a homage to Louis XIV (who didn’t actually attend as Lully’s lurid private life offended him: Mme Lully appears to have been the beard covering a series of rather racy gay affairs). This is a version created almost a hundred years later, when such Baroque music had fallen out of fashion and was being rejigged to suit contemporary tastes – the old Armide now had competition from a new version by Gluck, using the same libretto by Philippe Quinault. This recording is the world premiere of the revisions by the composer Louis-Joseph Francœur which was never performed. It reveals a denser soundworld: the recitatives are not accompanied by the harpsichord but are orchestrated, there are more dances, and the striking woodwind writing is more developed. Listen to the Act IV aria ‘Les oiseaux de ce bocage’ for its magical flute accompaniment. Everything sounds more lush, far less austere. Essentially these are Baroque bones with a fleshier overlay. The recording is exemplary, spacious and natural. Hervé Niquet conducts with considerable style – it would be tempting to underline Armide’s old or new style, but Niquet finds a gracious balance, enjoying the dramatic outbursts yet relishing the orchestral effects. Most importantly, he finds a series of continuing tempi that propel the drama but don’t lurch, in an opera that could easily become disjointed or merely a series of numbers. The title role suits Véronique Gens perfectly, placed ideally in the sweet spot of her soprano, thus highlighting her rich middle voice. Reinoud van Mechelen is a stylish tenor Renaud, and Tassis Christoyannis displays his endless versatility in two baritone roles, the king, Hidraot and la Haine.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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