The music of 17th-century France reflected a highly sophisticated culture and had a rich vocabulary of mannered stylization and elegant ornamentation. Most of the scholarly energy in this area has focused on instrumental performance practices, and we regularly hear chamber ensembles whose expertise is music of the French baroque. Les Arts Florissants, however, is an expert vocal group in this field. Led by an American, William Christie, who is a highly regarded musicologist, the six-voice ensemble performed an unusual and entertaining program Thursday night at the University of Maryland.
Charpentier's "Le Reniement de Saint Pierre" was the evening's most familiar piece. Paced unusually quickly and with an aggressive tone to the interplay between Peter and the accusers, the music gained in dramatic intensity but lost some of the internal rhythms that bind it together.
An attractive set of Airs by Michel Lambert attested to the fruitfulness of Christie's researches in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. They were sung with a splendid sense of style and with lovely ornamentation by various combinations of the ensemble. Sets of graceful sacred pieces by Bouzignac and rather square sacred pieces by Moulinie opened the program, and the marvelous collection of buffo spoofs by Charpentier, performed with real comic flair, ended the evening.