Conductor and harpsichordist William Christie named Les Arts Florissants, his troupe of singers and period instrumentalists, after a short opera by 17th-century French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier--and unsurprisingly, since its formation in 1979 the group has been vital to the resuscitation of the French Baroque repertoire, performing long-neglected major works by Lully, Rameau, Couperin, and, above all, Charpentier. Les Arts Florissants is based in France, and Christie himself is now a French citizen, but his love for French music began during his childhood in Buffalo, New York, when he heard a recording of Couperin's motets. He studied at Yale with brilliant harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick, and in the early 1970s went to Paris--where, during long hours spent poring over forgotten scores in the National Library, his curiosity about Charpentier's work turned into admiration. By now his fortunes are inextricably entwined with those of the maitre de chapelle: as the public has arrived at a new appreciation of Charpentier--not only his dramatic flair, but his mastery of the Italian style from which the French Baroque evolved--Christie's renown has grown as well. The recordings Les Arts Florissants has made of Charpentier's operas and church music are considered definitive: they're scrupulous and well-balanced, yet still vital and spontaneous. Here the group will perform an oratorio, In nativitatem Domini canticum, and a mass, Messe de minuit pour Noel, both of which also appear on its new Erato CD; rounding out the program is a collection of eight short liturgical pieces, Antiennes "O" de l'Avent, with orchestral interludes. The oratorio is atmospheric, creating its contrasting moods with subtly shifting harmonies and intricate counterpoint; the mass is lively and folksy without sounding unsophisticated. And the venue, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, bears more than a passing resemblance--both in acoustics and ambience--to Paris's Church of Saint-Louis, where Charpentier originally presented much of his work. Les Arts Florissants will bring a 20-voice choir and a 25-piece ensemble consisting mostly of strings. Tuesday, November 27, 8 PM, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn; 773-702-8068.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Courtesy Shuman Associates.