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Jean Philippe Rameau (1683 – 1764)
Hippolyte et Aricie – Orchestral Suite

Prologue: Overture; Entrée des Habitants de la Forêt; Air en rondeau pour Les Amours; Gavottes I et II; Menuets I et II; Gavottes vives I et II; Marche
1st Act: Marche des Prêtresses de Diane; Premier air; Second air; Tonnerre
2nd Act: Premier Air des furies; Deuxième Air des furies; Troisième Air des furies
3rd Act: Ritournelle; Marche des Treseniens et des Matelots; Air gai; Menuet; Tambourins I, II et III; Premier Rigaudon en Tambourin; Deuxième Rigaudon
4th Act: Rondeau; Menuets I et II
5th Act: Symphonie (Troisième Scène); Vol des Zephyrs; Marche (en 3/4); Chaconne; Gavottes I et II
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
Recorded June 1978, Scholosskirche, Scheiden.
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 74321 935542 [51.39]


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Amazingly this recording, by Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande, is over 25 years old. Kuijken and harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt founded the group in 1972 and its composition was based on that of Lully’s orchestra under Louis XIV. On this disc they are led by Sigiswald Kuijken with Wieland Kuijken on cello, Barthold Kuijken on flute and Bob van Asperen on the harpsichord.

Strictly speaking this is not a suite at all, but simply a selection of the dance movements from the opera. The movements are played in the order in which they occur in the opera and though Kuijken has made a selection from various versions of the opera (dating from 1733, 1742 and 1757), no attempt has been made to re-organise the movements so that they make a coherent whole.

By including some of the movements from Rameau’s revisions to the opera, Kuijken enables us to hear the changes that occur in Rameau’s orchestration. ‘Hippolyte et Aricie’ was Rameau’s first tragédie en musique and though written some 50 years after Lully’s last opera, he still adheres to Lully’s diktats regarding the orchestra, both in terms of the disposition of instruments and instrumental writing, with soprano and bass lines dominating. But in the third air des furies from the 2nd Act of the 1757 version, the horns and oboes start to take on a harmonic function, gradually replacing the continuo, rather then being used melodically as they were in 1733. Here and in other places we can see the beginnings of what we think of as classical orchestration.

As for the performances themselves, when Nicholas Anderson reviewed this disc in the Gramophone in 1990 (when it first appeared on CD) he described the performances as first rate. I am not sure that I agree. The group do give performances which are, on the whole, lively and stylish, though there are occasional moments when the strings are untidy and the oboes sound a little sour. But by the end of the disc I was finding the performances a little careful and was rather missing the sense of élan which other groups have brought to this music. Also, I began to long for some vocal contributions. Rameau had a strong sense of musical structure and these entr’actes and divertissements had an important part to play in the structure of the scenes; there are moments when the music seems to lack punctuation because one musical movement leads into another without the essential intervening vocal elements.

These are charming, creditable performances and ‘Hippolyte et Aricie’ is currently not too well served on disc. But personally, I would try and save up for William Christie’s complete recording.

Robert Hugill

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