Let me tell you
Stratospheric Barbara Hannigan
Birmingham and BBC Proms
One to treasure
One of the
Book and CD
Book + 4CDs
Jean-PhilippeRAMEAU (1683-1764) Anacréon (1757) [41:24]
Thiery Félix (baritone)
(Anacréon); Véronique Gens (soprano) (la
Prètresse de Bacchus); Annick Massis (soprano) (l’Amour); Rodrigo
del Pozo (counter-tenor) (Agathocle) Le Berger fidèle(1728) [15:07] Véronique Gens (soprano) Chœur des Musiciens du Louvre
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
rec. Cité de la Musique, France. DDD ARCHIV 449
There are two different short
operas (from 1754 and 1757) by Rameau with the title Anacréon.
Both are one-act actes de ballet; this one was actually
used as the third entrée of Rameau's opéra-ballet Les
surprises de l'Amour when it was revived the same year.
Both works have as their subject the Greek poet, Anacreon.
The 1757 one - which was first performed at the Paris Opéra
in May of that year and has a libretto by Pierre-Joseph Justin
Bernard - has an only marginally less slight ‘plot’ than
the earlier Anacréon. It follows an argument as to
the relative merits of love and wine. That’s resolved in
Anacreon’s favour by L’Amour; in fact, he believes the two
are not incompatible.
The music is neither slight
nor trite, though. There are some truly enchanting moments
such as the brief Scene 4 recitative and the ‘Sleep, Rain,
Storm’ passage – succinct and touching little tableaux. The
singing is well up to scratch with the right blend of restraint
and oratory. In particular Véronique
Gens brings a sparkle and lightness befitting the lack of
intricacy to the work. By the same token Les Musiciens du
Louvre play with care, gusto and enthusiasm making the most
of the variety, tunefulness and delicacy of this unpretentious
work. The acoustic balance between strings and woodwind with
continuo in support of the soloists is a good one, although
the recording as a whole is a little on the dry side and
would have benefited from a touch more atmosphere.
Although there was a recording
of this Anacréon by Les Arts Florissants and Christie,
from the early 1980s on Harmonia Mundi, it is no longer available.
Le Berger fidèle,by contrast, dates
from much earlier in Rameau’s career,
1728. A cantata ‘for solo voice and
Symphony’, it’s about a third the length of Anacréon but
every bit as enjoyable. Again this has pastoral Greece for
its setting… the
faithful shepherd Myrtle and his
love for Amaryllis. Le Berger fidèle consists
of six short airs and recitatives which essentially turn
the lament, ‘Faut-il
qu'Amarillis périsse?’ into ‘Charmant Amour sous ta puissance’ and – thanks
to Myrtle’s exemplary loving (‘Vous montrez comme il faut
aimer’) - there’s a happy ending.
Appropriate to a small-scale
semi-declamatory morality piece, Le
Berger fidèle has gentler scoring and simpler aspirations. Again Gens shines, bringing
a detached presence but an engaging one to both the narrative
and the airs, a little more to the fore in this piece than
in Anacréon. There are three other recordings; the
Complete Cantatas on Gaudeamus234 being the one to go for. One
word of warning: by the time you get immersed in the step-by-step
achievement by the shepherd, it all too suddenly ends. The
final ‘air vif e gracieux’ is perhaps a little too ‘vif’ and
you really want to return to the start to savour what really
is so very graceful all over again.
As with all these Arkiv CDs you are getting a record company-authorised
CDR at a favourable price, a reproduction of the original
cover and back of booklet. The original liner-notes are not
Nothing outstandingly profound
here. Nothing that wasn’t being done by Rameau’s contemporaries … though
this is Rameau, not Lully or Handel. But accomplished, unpretentious,
straightforward, gentle and surprisingly humane good music.
Well played, if a trifle understated by Minkowski and his
forces. But definitely worth investigating as an underlit
corner of the French Baroque.
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