The instrumental works of Marc-Antoine Charpentier are familiar to very few people. A large number of them were composed for use in churches, the most famous of these being the Messe pour plusieurs instruments au lieu des orgues that has already been recorded by Jean Tubéry and La Fenice for Ricercar (RIC 245). Charpentier composed the Sonate à huit around 1685, at a time when various private musical societies were exploring the Italian sonata style. Charpentier discovered this style at the same time as François Couperin, who also set about composing sonatas in the Italian style. Charpentier’s Sonate à huit blends the Italian style with the French suite of dances and as such is one of the masterpieces of instrumental music of the French baroque. The symphonies Pour un Reposoir were intended to accompany an outdoor procession, an organ naturally not being available. The greater part of the CD, however, is taken up by the Noëls pour les Instruments which Charpentier set for instrumental ensemble and organ. We have also recorded the original versions of the above-mentioned Christmas carols, complete with their many verses as they appeared in French collections published at the beginning of the 18th century. This recording of Christmas music can be enjoyed throughout the year!
Artaxerxes, premiered in London in 1762, was the first full-length opera seria sung in English. It proved a great success and helped to revive the fortunes of Thomas Arne, whose career had been in the doldrums. The opera featured his new protégée and mistress Charlotte Brent in the role of Mandane and Arne lavished attention on her music. Mandane’s arias and those of the hero Arbaces provide many of the opera’s high points, with their rich orchestrations, virtuoso vocal parts and captivating tunes. Though based on the Handelian model, Artaxerxes shows both Arne’s talent at the later galant style and his penchant for folk-like, pastoral airs. The results are mostly a delight (if a tad lightweight for the libretto’s blood ’n’ thunder deeds), with a variety of attractive arias further enhanced by Arne’s deft use of woodwind. Christopher Robson in the title role and Catherine Bott, thrilling as Mandane, head a fine team of singers: my only complaint is that Patricia Spence’s forceful Arbaces too often slips into shrill and strident mode.