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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Platée Suite (1745) [22:24]
Pigmalion Suite (1748) [19:49]
Dardanus Suite (1739) [33:33]
Daniel Hope (violin)
European Union Baroque Orchestra/Roy Goodman
rec. 11 December 1999, Chapel of Hertford College, Oxford (Platée); 26-27 December 2001, Eglise Protestante de Bruxelles (Pigmalion); 14 November 2003, St. Michaelís Church, Summertown, Oxford (Dardanus).
NAXOS 8.557490 [75:46]

The reputation of Rameau as one of the most influential and important composers of dance music raises one high expectations. Iím pleased to report that this disc of suites from his ballet-operas meets those expectations. It is a first rate representation of this composerís imaginative, succinct and expressive music.

These three suites are extracted from stage works whose construction as two equal parts of ballet and opera reflected the priorities and sensibilities of the eighteenth century French court. As Simon Heighes explains in the liner notes, "dance was the life-blood of the French court, and it permeated every sphere of musical life." The elegance and rhythmic drive of the music are infectious, and it becomes incredibly easy to visualize what must have been impressive feats of choreography.

The European Union Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Roy Goodman does this music justice. Tempi are brisk and effective without ever sacrificing the intense levels of detail that lend this music its distinctive sound. Intonation is consistently spot-on, and ensemble issues are rare. My only complaint is an occasional heaviness in the continuo that seems to weigh down the soaring sounds of the upper strings. Obviously, Goodman and his orchestra are well-versed in the academic aspects of baroque performance; however, they approach this music in an exciting, expressive way. Hearing ballet music divorced from the dance is an interesting undertaking as the music is the primary focus. The players must imbue the music with extra interest and meaning as there is no dancing with which to share the burden of "selling" the piece. This disc is a success because it fills the void quite well: the music stands alone beautifully.

All tracks are strong, but a few stand out. "Orage" from the Platée Suite is virtually flawless. Its quick, sweeping lines depict the storm perfectly, and the orchestra phrases brilliantly. The quick figures are exact, and perfectly together, yet the overall arch remains in place. "Air pour des fous gais et des fous tristes" from the same suite is another exciting track. Rameau uses different orchestrations to portray the "fous gais" and the "fous tristes." It is a hilarious effect, played well by Goodmanís group. One of Rameauís most famous overtures, that of Pigmalion is included on this disc with complete success.

This disc is a wonderful addition to Naxos catalogue. Congratulations to the label, the orchestra, and to Roy Goodman. This is an essential disc for ballet lovers, Baroque enthusiasts, and Francophiles.

Jonathan Rohr



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