Concert Review: In An Italian Garden/Les Arts Florissant/Le Jardin des Voix


In an Italian Garden

Les Arts Florissant and Le Jardin des Voix,

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House,

March 12, 2015.

After an absence of more than a decade, the two dozen or so instrumentalists of Les Arts Florissants and the six vocalists of their vocal academy, Le Jardin des Voix returned to perform in Sydney, under the guidance of Musical Director and Founder, William Christie.

The programme entitled In an Italian Garden was a brilliant performance with Sophie Daneman’s semi-staging adding visual and dramatic impact to this ultimate musical realisation of Baroque treasures. The credentials of the ensemble are impeccable. Founded by the New York born Christie in France in 1979, the ensemble has carved a niche of excellence for itself in the performance of Baroque repertoire both sacred and secular.

In an Italian Garden comprised a ravishing and light-hearted selection of music from the secular  repertoire of the 16th-18th centuries. The selection of cantatas, madrigals and operatic extracts were mostly by the early Italian masters like Banchieri, Stradella, Vecchi and Vivaldi, with inclusions from Handel. The second half of the evening was a pastiche of vocal works by Cimarosa,  Sarro and Porpora complemented with works by Haydn and Mozart, moulded into a ‘play within a play.’

The opening item, a madrigal extract from Adriano Banchieri’s Il Zabaione musicale set the mood for the evening – like the eponymous Italian dessert, the evening’s offerings were light, sweet, impeccably crafted with flawless timing and a little heady. The singers, embedded amongst the instrumentalists revealed themselves one by one, turned out in shades of rose by Paris couturier   Virginie Tougani. The six members of this, the seventh edition of Académie du Jardin des Voix – soprano Lucia Martin-Carton, mezzo-soprano Lea Desandres, counter-tenor Carlo Vistoli, tenor Nicholas Scott, baritone Renato Dolcini and bass-baritone John Taylor Ward – are fearsomely talented. Christie’s thoughtful reverse philosophy of curating a programme to suit the voices rather than moulding the voices to fit the repertoire paid off handsomely. Although Lucia Martin-Carton’s voice has a rare beauty, and an unswerving straightness of tone, Lea  Desandres only just had the edge as my personal favourite. Through music and drama they narrated tales of love and jealousy, rage and beauty, an arrow serving as the single prop to integrate the themes. They even coaxed William Christie into a piece of the theatrics.

Whilst these fabulous young singers had us enthralled, it was easy to be distracted from the notion that this ensemble is first and foremost an instrumental one. The orchestra’s performance in supporting the singers was splendid with a special nod to harpsichordist Benoît Hartoin.

The mismatch between the style of the music performed, the size of the ensemble and the symphony sized venue was attenuated to a degree by the heavy, garden lit drape on stage and the shrouded platform boxes.

Despite the superlative performances and very well placed seats, the sheer size of the concert hall precluded the sense of intimacy which the repertoire demanded. For this reason, it was at times difficult to appreciate some of the detail of this finely tended creation.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©



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