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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Anacréon (1754)
Anacréon – Matthew Brook (bass)
Chloé – Anna Dennis (soprano)
Batile – Agustin Prunell-Friend (tenor)
The Choir of the Enlightenment
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Jonathan Williams
rec. All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, 14-15 February 2014
World premiere recording

Anacreon was a Greek lyric poet who died around 485BC and is regarded as one of the Nine Lyric or Melic Poets of Greek antiquity. He was also one of the most popular of all the ancient poets in eighteenth century France, with Madame de Pompadour owning four different translations of his works. It is understandable therefore, that Rameau composed not one, but two works, or ‘actes de ballet’, entitled Anacréon. This one dates from 1754 and receives its premiere recording here, whilst the more famous version comes from 1757. In preparation for reviewing this disc I returned firstly to Mary Térey-Smith’s recording of the orchestral suite (8.553746), and then to Marc Minkowski’s excellent recording of the complete 1757 version (Archiv 449 211-2 also Brilliant Classics 93930). It was only after listening to these a couple of times that I turned my attention to this new recording. After repeated listening I can say that there are no real similarities between the two versions of the opera. Not only did Rameau employ a different librettist for the two versions, but the stories are different and he also composed completely different music. The second version was not so much a re-working but a completely new and different opera. The Naxos recording of the suite is something different however, as the music presented here seems to be taken from the 1754 version, so the claim that this new recording is a “World Premier Recording” should perhaps be tempered with the phrase ‘of the complete opera’.

This is not Rameau’s finest work, the plot is at times quite ponderous and predictable. However, after reading the excellent booklet notes by Jonathan Williams, in which he explains how he reconstructed this version of the opera from fragments you come to realize just what a labour of love this task was for him. This production was the fulfilment of all his hard work. Williams shows great control of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, giving them what we understand to be the sound of a French period performance orchestra. It is a shame therefore, that his singers, especially Matthew Brook and Agustin Prunell-Friend show occasional lapses in diction; good rather than exceptional therefore. Anna Dennis on the other hand, in such as her Arietta “Quand l’Amour enflame nos cœurs” is excellent as Chloé, with the chorus also in fine form. If anything the 1757 version works better, and in that case Minkowski was also blessed with native French singers. Even so, you can understand why Rameau composed a new opera rather than revising his original thoughts. That being said, all the performers give of their best, and this work is more than an interesting rarity. Rather it is a valuable addition to the catalogue and Signum Records and especially Jonathan Williams, should be praised and thanked for bringing it to the attention of the listening public.

As mentioned above, the booklet notes are excellent, adding a lot to the listener's understanding and enjoyment of the work. I also relished the recorded sound which helped to bring out every nuance of Rameau’s compositional style.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Simon Thompson



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