For the late night prom on Monday, the French early music group Ensemble Matheus led by the flamboyant violinist/director Jean-Christophe Spinosi brought an entertaining and well-juxtaposed programme of baroque arias and concertos starring French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux.

In fact, this was an interesting choice of singers, as they both had similar vocal ranges; in terms of power, Lemieux’s rich contralto definitely had the upper hand against Jaroussky’s beautifully pure and delicate tone. Yet, they both played to their strengths and it all came together brilliantly at the end.

Jaroussky began the concert boldly with the aria “Empiro, diro, tu sei” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, negotiating the brilliant coloratura with ease. His vocal control is sensational – he is probably the most technically accomplished countertenor around today. Yet his real strength lays not in the bravura arias, but in the lyrical and tender music which was demonstrated to perfection in Vivaldi’s aria “Sol da ate, mio dolce amore” from Orlando furioso (with sensuous flute playing from the Jean-Marc Goujon) and Porpora’s moving aria “Alto Giove” from his neglected opera Polifemo (1735), originally composed for the castrato Farinelli.

Meanwhile, Marie-Nicole Lemieux was not to be outplayed. She showed versatility by singing both female roles and trouser roles by Vivaldi; when singing as a shepherdess in the two arias from La fida nifa she wore a turquoise-coloured dress, changing into a black trouser outfit for the title role in Orlando furioso. She portrayed the deranged Orlando with real theatricality and emotion –knocking over a music stand in fury as she began the famous mad scene. At times, her enthusiasm got better of her intonation, but she definitely has an attractive voice and presence suited to the operatic stage.

In between the arias, the instrumentalists of the Ensemble Matheus took to the stage. In Telemann’s Concerto for recorder and flute, written in an elegant Italianate style, the soloists Alexiss Kossenko (recorder) and Jean-Marc Goujon (baroque flute) performed a thrilling double act, each displaying their virtuosity as well as playing together in perfect harmony. Vivaldi’s double violin concerto featured the director Spinosi and the leader Laurence Paugam. Spinosi’s playing is vivacious yet never aggressive: indeed, his light and flexible style informs the distinctive string sound of the Ensemble Matheus as a whole, which is different from other French groups such as Les Art Florissants or Les Talens Lyriques, or for that matter, from any of the recent Italian groups.

Lemieux and Jaroussky rounded off the concert with a charming pastoral duet from La fida ninfa, which was playfully sung. But they had a further delight up their sleeve: as an encore, they shared Orlando’s aria “Nel profondo cieco mondo” taking alternate turns and outrageously trying to outdo each other like two rival divas! The audience were all so elated that I’m sure no one minded their long trek home amidst the tube strike.