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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (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 449 211-2 [56:31]

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 Gaudeamus 234 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 included.
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.
Mark Sealey


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