Le Poème Harmonique, ****/ Classical Opera, Piau, ***
Wigmore Hall, London
Tuesday 16 October 2012
I had not heard of Le Poème Harmonique, nor had I heard of the composers Etienne Moulinié or Charles Tessier (the Oxford Dictionary of Music hadn’t either), so this French ensemble’s recital of their music was an ear-opener.
Moulinié and Tessier led rackety, risky lives in the turbulent times of Louis XIII, and wrote airs de cour which were France’s answer to the Elizabethan lute song. Moulinié also composed instrumental fantaisies, and the one we heard here had Purcellian plangency.
The songs were fascinating, reaching extremes of ribaldry - ‘Too long have I been a virgin’; ‘All night long/I can bang like a ram’ - and at times shrouding themselves in mystery. I am still puzzling over the meaning of Tessier’s ‘No ay en el tierra’, with its ominous suggestion that the figure gracefully incarnated by the singer is an exterminating angel. ‘Whatever I look on, I destroy...’
The singing itself was by turns gutsy and haunting, as was the playing by this ensemble, whose early-Baroque instruments conjured a lovely range of textures. One of the Moulinié rarities they played was a series of pieces for a ballet whose original production had seen a procession of cooks, slaves, chambermaids, minstrels, monkeys, and women played by courtiers in drag, all of whom had their own evocative number; yet in serious mode Moulinié was a polyphonic master to rival Monteverdi. If this ensemble has a USP, it’s undoubtedly in soprano Claire Lefilliatre, whose timbre cuts powerfully but sweetly through everything.
The following evening saw the hall filled to bursting for a French soprano of a very different sort. Sandrine Piau is a famous canceller, but her devotees will travel hundreds of miles on the off-chance of catching a performance; the fact that others would travel just as far to avoid one is a reflection of her singing’s divisive effect.
And this recital of Mozart trouvailles, with early symphonies alternating with arias, made both responses understandable. She has an extraordinary timbre, but so mannered a style that she can destroy the line of the music, and she doesn’t sing words. Evidently a nervy creature, she relaxed as the evening progressed, and her second encore, an exquisite Handel lament, allowed her to find her true voice and incidentally showed off the wonderful transparency of the Orchestra of Classical Opera’s sound.
sportLiverpool 5 Norwich City 1: Uruguayan striker has now scored 11 league goals against the club
arts + entsOlivier-nominated actor and singer is set to star in Lloyd Webber's musical about the Profumo affair
filmWith more than 70 per cent of early films lost, archivists are scouring the world to preserve the precious examples that remain
sportThe coach of Chalfont St Peter's under-10s football team was relieved of his duties after he sent an email to parents that said: 'I am only interested in winning'
techA piece of new hi-tech kit aims to get us scribbling again
indybestMake getting out of the wrong side of bed on cold winter mornings a thing of the past with our selection of night-time covers
life + styleClarissa Baldwin is the brains behind the slogan 'A Dog is for Life not just for Christmas'
Arts & Ents blogs
The 50 Best Christmas songs: Bells continue to ring for the Pogues' 'Fairytale of New York'
Shia LaBeouf's Nymphomaniac sex scene removed from YouTube
Eminem, Drake and Jay Z among Spotify's most-streamed artists of 2013
Morgan Freeman portrait: The world's most realistic finger painting?
Nymphomaniac trailer shown to children at screening of Disney film Frozen
- 1 North Korea: Kim Jong Un 'sacks powerful uncle and has his aides executed'
- 2 The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading'
- 3 Is this the scariest advert ever? Japanese tyre commercial comes with its own disclaimer and health warning
- 4 A forgotten episode in Russian history leaves links with the Philippines
- 5 ‘Put it in my mouth’: Viewers outraged by apparent reference to oral sex in VIP e-cig advert