You get a better class of after-dinner entertainment from Les Arts Florissants. Forget laborious speeches or dodgy magic tricks, this ongoing series offers listeners the opportunity to eavesdrop on the kind of spontaneous singing and playing that helped the French nobility helped while away the time in the late-16th and early-17th centuries.

Les Arts Florissants
As with previous volumes, we meet the air de cour in all its guises, from the older style of intricate four and five-voice counterpoint (Claude Le Jeune’s Allons, allons gay gayment is the most characterful example, pitched somewhere between stage and chamber here) to dramatic scenas with instrumental support (Pierre Guedron’s Aux plaisirs conjures its pastoral, gather-ye-rosebuds scenario with playful urgency) and languorous solo songs like Guedron’s Quel espoir de guarir.

Five instrumentalists and five singers weave endless textural variety, enjoying the contrasts between the naughty, chattering comedy of Guedron’s Que dit-on au village? (more vocal acting than singing as such) and the ravishing simplicity and intensity of his Cesses mortels de soupirer.

As with previous volumes, the quality of performances is superb. William Christie directs a crack team of musicians including Thomas Dunford, whose theorbo accompaniments are a highlight – so articulately embellished. Instrumental tracks are much more than palate-cleansers, featuring some of the disc’s most startling music including Pierre Verdier’s chromatically charged Lamento, and the singers all move seamlessly from quasi-operatic soloists to choristers.

Soprano Emmanuelle de Negri stands apart though for the sheer breadth of colour in her tone, the care of her phrasing. The title track from Antoine Boesset gives you some sense of the sophistication you can expect from this music – both in essence and, here, in performance. 

Listen on Apple Music.

Composers: Guedron, Le Jeune and Boesset
Works: Selected Songs
Performers: Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Label: Harmonia Mundi HAF8905318