Les Arts Florissants / Paul Agnew / William Christie

Les Arts Florissants 40 ans

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The ensemble Les Arts Florissants, founded and for many years headed by American-French conductor William Christie, specializes in the music of the French Baroque. That might seem a poor fit with a greatest-hits collection like this one: surely anyone interested in the French Baroque will already have heard many of the selections included on this three-disc set, celebrating the group's 40th anniversary in 2019. Actually, though, the influence of Les Arts Florissants has been so fundamental that a survey of this kind is entirely appropriate. When Christie founded the ensemble in 1979, French Baroque music was a rare find on recordings. Les Arts Florissants has changed that completely, and Christie expanded the operation with an educational aspect that will keep the momentum going. The group contributed to the growing popularity of 17th century music outside of France, and the gorgeous Monteverdi recordings here (sample Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda) are the equal of any. The three discs in the package are divided into the categories of Music and Theater, Sacred Music, and Secular Music, the last covering chamber-sized groups. All contain works of interest; the big sacred pieces on disc two in particular were all but unknown to general audiences before Christie came along. Within each disc, however, the compilers make no attempt to be chronological, and they're right in this regard: Les Arts Florissants' sound has remained remarkably stable over the years. The program does begin with the overture to the Charpentier works that gave the group their name, and the sound from 1981 came from that era where the transition from analog to digital produced questionable results. That's one of the few complaints here, however. The group's stability comes partly from the fact that it has had only two conductors over its four decades, Christie and Paul Agnew. The latter has led the group into some new realms, offering the intense Gesualdo heard on disc three, for example. All in all, this is a fine, expansive selection of the important work done by Les Arts Florissants, and it's as a good a place as any to begin for a listener just starting out with historical performances and with the Baroque in general.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Les Arts florissants, Divertissement en cinq scènes, H. 497
1 02:34
Atys, Tragédie en musique en cinq actes
2 01:53
3 07:35
Castor et Pollux, Tragédie en musique en cinq actes
4 03:33
5 05:56
Anacréon, Opéra-Ballet
6 05:56
Les Indes galantes, Opéra-ballet en quatre entrées
7 04:21
David et Jonathas, Tragédie biblique en cinq actes, H. 490
8 02:29
9 07:17
Le Malade imaginaire, Comédie-ballet en trois actes, H 495
10 04:42
Pygmalion, Opéra-ballet en un acte
11 11:58
Idoménée, Tragédie en musique en cinq actes
12 04:17
13 02:40
14 06:45
15 02:20
La Vénitienne
16 03:07
17 02:08

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Te Deum, H. 146
1 01:55
Messiah, HWV 56
2 03:25
The Ways of Zion do Mourn, HWV 264
3 02:56
4 12:47
5 02:47
6 07:52
7 07:49
8 03:52
9 08:07
Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, HWV 46a
10 06:15
Cantique quatrième "Sur le bonheur des justes & sur le malheur des resprouvez"
11 02:08
Te Deum, S. 32
12 01:03
13 01:35
Mass in B minor / Messe en si mineur, BWV 232
14 04:09
15 13:16
blue highlight denotes track pick