Marc-Antoine Charpentier was neglected for centuries after his death, but by the late 20th century increased frequency of performances and recordings revealed him as one of the geniuses of the Baroque. He had a distinctive, individual voice and a gift for subtle emotional expression capable of evoking the most profound grief, as well as a loopy humor rarely associated with music of his era.
Musical directors Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs lead the vocal and chamber ensembles of the Boston Early Music Festival in characteristically expert performances of Charpentier's 40-minute pastoral opera Actéon, the brief cantata Orphée descendant aux enfers, and incidental music for the play La Pierre Philisophale. The musically polished performances shimmer with life and dramatic urgency. The cast of young soloists sings Charpentier's graceful, yearning melodies with naturalness and a sure grasp of the middle Baroque French style. Their ornamentation sounds entirely spontaneous, as expressions of emotion rather than merely the fulfillment of a formulaic stylistic requirement. The singers are so consistently first-rate, singing with sweet tone, flawless intonation, and technical mastery, that it seems almost unfair to single any out for special commendation over the others. Tenors Aaron Sheehan and Jason McStoots and soprano Teresa Wakim shine in the most prominent roles. The sound of CPO's 2009 recording is clean, clear, and nicely present. This is an album that should interest any fans of Baroque vocal music.