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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)

Stéphane Degout (baritone)
Emmanuelle de Negri (soprano)
Stanislas de Barbeyrac (tenor)
Reinoud van Mechelen (haute-contre)
Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo (mezzo)
Nicolas Courjal (bass)
Thomas Dolié (baritone)
Mathias Vidal (tenor)
Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon
rec. December 2016, Paris, Église Notre-Dame du Liban. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902288 [78:17]

If you thought that Wagner and Verdi were the first composers whose operas sounded really powerful, this new recording should make you think again. There’s plenty of thunder and fury here to equal even the Solti recording of Thor’s hammer marking the entry to Valhalla in Rheingold. Having caught about half of the album on BBC Radio 3 Record Review, I had to hear the whole thing, which I have already done several times over. I tend to be very mean in awarding Recording of the Month status – this is my first this year – but I couldn’t deny it.

At the heart of the programme is a recently discovered Requiem Mass in which an anonymous composer adapted music from Rameau’s Castor et Pollux and Les Fêtes de Paphos. Around this core hang extracts from Rameau’s Zoroastre, Dardanus, Hippolyte et Aricie, Les Surprises de l’Amour, and Les Boréades, and Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, Armide and Orphée et Euridice. The music is arranged according to the sections of a Requiem: Introit, Kyrie, Gradual, Sequence, Offertory, Communion and In Paradisum. With lots of turbulence on the way, the music of consolation from Les Boréades ends the programme.

Most of the turbulence comes from Zoroastre in performances so persuasive as to send the listener in search of further extracts from that opera, as on Alpha142, where selections from Zaïs and Zoroastre are performed by Ausonia, directed by Fréderick Haas. Better still, go for the complete Zoroastre from Les Arts Florissants for around £14 (Erato 2564658889 – review).

That’s a splendid bargain and it’s hard to imagine the performance being bettered but, on the basis of the new album, I would welcome a complete Zoroastre from these performers. That would build on Pygmalion’s Rameau recordings with Raphaël Pichon: Castor et Pollux, with Emmanuelle de Negri from the current recording (Harmonia Mundi) and Dardanus, on DVD with Reinoud van Mechelen (Harmonia Mundi – review of live performance) and on CD, again with Emmanuelle de Negri (Alpha, budget-price – review). (NB: still also available at full price without texts).

This is Stéphane Degout’s first recording for Harmonia Mundi and it’s a very auspicious one. Apart from the bizarre Glyndebourne Hippolyte et Aricie, where he sang Theseus – review – his recordings have been in much later repertoire. Kirk McElhearn thought him one of the ‘top notch’ singers there. He’s all that and more besides on the new Harmonia Mundi and he has the programme almost to himself.

Emmanuelle de Negri joins him for track 12. The brevity of her appearance here is made up for by her part on a new Ricercar François Couperin recording on which she appears in excellent voice in about a third of the items. (Les Muses Naissantes1, Ricercar RIC387).

Mathias Vidal, Thomas Dolié and Nicolas Courjal appear with Degout on track 7 and again on track 14. On both they acquit their parts well, as do Reinoud van Mechelen on track 18, Stanislas de Barbeyrac on track 9 and Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo on track 19 – she actually gets the latter to herself, with the choir, and is mercifully free from mezzo plumminess.

The support which the soloists receive from the choir and orchestra is also first-rate. On their own in Gluck’s Dance of the Furies (track 15) the latter give as exciting an account as any of the many that I’ve heard. In the Dance of the Blessed Spirits (track 21) and the closing Entrée de Polymnie (track 23) they are equally accomplished in conveying the opposite mood. Come to think of it, I’d like to hear these performers in Gluck, too, perhaps not in the much-recorded Orphée but in one of his other operas.

The recording is very good. Even as heard from Radio 3 in 192kbs DAB sound, the bass provided a good test of my Monitor Audio floor-standers. The notes in the booklet verge on the pretentious at times but are otherwise helpful and informative. The tracks on which Stanislas de Barbeyrac and Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo appear are both labelled ‘SB’, which is confusing.

Whether you are new to the wonderful world of baroque opera or an old hand, this new recording is a must. Newcomers especially will find it an excellent starting point to explore the repertoire.

1 not, as one might think, a newly discovered Couperin cantata but an attractive 68-minute collection of his vocal, keyboard and ensemble music.

Brian Wilson

Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Zoroastre, Act IV Scene 6: Ah, nos fureurs ne sont point vaines [0:50]
Jean-Féry REBEL (1666-1747)
Les élémens, ‘Simphonie nouvelle’ : I. Le Cahos [6:02]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU
Dardanus, Act IV Scene 4: Voici les tristes lieux - Monstre affreux [3:51]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU/Anonymous
Messe de Requiem sur des themes de ‘Castor et Pollux’: Requiem æternam [3:06]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Iphigénie en Tauride, Act II Scene 3: Dieux protecteurs de ces affreux rivages [5:59]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU/Anonymous
Messe de Requiem: Kyrie eleison [2:50]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU
Hippolyte et Aricie, Act II Scene 4: Dieux! que d’infortunés gémissent dans ces lieux! [6:23]
Les surprises de l’Amour, Act II Scene 8: La Lyre Enchantée: Loure [2:07]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK
Armide, Act IV Scene 1: Nous ne trouvons partout que des gouffres ouverts [2:43]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU/Anonymous
Messe de Requiem: Domine Jesu Christe [3:57]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK
Orphée et Eurydice, Act II Scene 1: Sinfonie infernale - Air de Furie [1:50]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU
Zoroastre, Act IV Scene 4: Épuisons le flanc - Ministres redoutés [2:09]
Zoroastre, Act IV Scene 5: Air grave [1:28]
Zoroastre, Act IV Scene 5: Quel bonheur! L’Enfer nous seconde [1:19]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK
Orphée et Eurydice, Act II: Dance of the Furies [3:57]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU
Hippolyte et Aricie, Act II Scene 5: Vous, qui de l’avenir percez - Quelle soudaine [4:01]
Hippolyte et Aricie, Act III Scene 6: Qu’ai-je appris - Puissant maître des flots [5:06]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU/Anonymous
Messe de Requiem: Hostias et preces tibi offerimus [2:56]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU
Hippolyte et Aricie, Act IV Scene 4: Quelle plainte en ces lieux m’appellle? [4:14]
Hippolyte et Aricie, Act V Scene 2: Je ne te verrais plus [1:37]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK
Orphée et Eurydice, Act II: Dance of the Blessed Spirits [3:04]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU/Anonymous
Messe de Requiem: Requiem æternam [3:16]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU
Les Boréades, Act IV Scene 4: Entrée de Polymnie [5:32]



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