Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
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, UK, 2014
World premiere recording
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD402 [50:19]
Rameau wrote not one but two Anacréon operas, though they have neither music nor text in common. This 1754 one is an opéra-ballet, a peculiarly French form that Rameau was making his own. The music was all but lost before it was reconstructed by Jonathan Williams from fragments of manuscripts scattered across some Parisian libraries. It is, therefore, a labour of love for him to be able to record it here, and the care with which he shapes the score is, perhaps, the best thing about this recording. The orchestral texture is beautifully realised, utterly characteristic and disarmingly French-sounding, down to the lovely swooping sound of the horns, or the flute that decorates several of the arias praising the outdoors, like Chloe’s Tendre Amour. The dances, such an intrinsic part of this format, are delightful; delicately sprung and full of blithe lightness, so that they jump out of the speakers in a most exciting manner. There is an indefinable sophistication to the OAE sound here that bears comparison with Les Arts Florissants - high praise in repertoire like this.
The opera itself is far from thrilling, its “story” revolving around the rather staid efforts of the poet Anacreon to get his charges, Chloe and Bathyllus, to realise that they are in love. This they duly do, without much fuss, and some dancing ensues, to the general delight of all. The finest of the singers is Anna Denis’ Chloé, who is full of wide-eyed innocence but marries this with a gloriously refulgent tone. There is a haunting, luxurious quality to her voice that I found utterly beguiling, and her singing is a joy throughout. Matthew Brook is on the gruff side as Anacréon himself and, like Agustin Prunell-Friend, you can tell that he isn’t French, for all the effort he puts into his diction. Prunell-Friend is also a little weedy of tone as Batile, which is a shame, as much of his music is lyrical and winning. Still, the ear attunes to it as the performance progresses, and the considerable benefits of the orchestral and choral colour certainly help.
If you’re interested in the opera, this is your only choice, and is likely to remain so for quite some time. Full texts and translations are included, as well as a very informative introductory essay by Jonathan Williams himself.