Archive for January 28th, 2014|Daily archive page

Rameau ravissante.

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on January 28, 2014 at 9:24 am

Review – La Grand Theatre d’Amour

Sabine Devieilhe (Soprano)
Amery Lefèvre (Baritone)
Samuel Boden (Tenor)

Les Ambassadeurs

Alexis Kossenko (Director)

Rameau can sometimes seem almost too much of a challenge but this new recital featuring Sabine Devieilhe and Les Ambassadeurs under the direction of Alexis Kossenko is one to cherish.

Suitably entitled La Grand Théâtre d’Amour, the recital is a well-judged balance of solo, ensemble and instrumental pieces that demonstrates the inventive breadth of Rameau’s genius.

In terms of technique and temperament, soprano Sabine Devieilhe fits Rameau’s music like a satin glove. There is a purity and delicacy of her voice that is beautifully offset by a well-controlled and gentle vibrato and excellent diction. But while her voice is crystalline and in that respect ravishing in the more delicate of Rameau’s airs, it did lack a wider range of colour and tone to more effectively evoke the range of emotions on this recital disc.

Forêts plaisible opens the disc with one of those musical sleight of hands that makes Rameau so delectable. Just as the listener is lulled into thinking it’s simply another danse, the soloists – Ms Devieilhe joined here by the sweet-voiced Amery Lefèvre – and then chorus enter.

What follows is an unexpected yet welcome inclusion – an air attributed to Charpentier. The mood, immediately created by the unaccompanied opening of Feillages verts naissez – delivered with aching simplicity – is transformed into something wonderful with the entry of solo flute.

Back with Rameau, Nérine’s coquettish Est-il beau is pointedly delivered by Ms Devieilhe who throws off the running passages with great skill while Viens, Hymen from Les Indes Galantes is poised with some elegantly controlled singing.

The bergère Je ne sais quel ennui me presse – characterised by the unique orchestral colours of Rameau’s scoring – exudes a naivety so fitting of Naïs and underlines the composer’s genius at using the simplest methods to convey character.

The gentle opening of Alphise’s Un horizon serein from Les Borédes is quickly dispelled with Rameau masterfully contrasting the serenity of the opening with the ensuing storm. His manipulation not only of the orchestra but the vocal line creating a real sense of dramatic tension is matched by Sabine Devieilhe vocal assurance if to a range of colour.

Samuel Boden joins the soprano for Pour voltages dans le bocage from Les Paladins. His light tenor a fitting counterfoil to her brighter soprano.

Tendre Amour from Anacréon is another of those wilting airs with flute most often associated with Rameau where he so effectively halts the drama and communicates the feelings of one of the main characters with such simplicity and grace through an armoury of suspensions and subtle harmonic shifts.

The closing Inca scène from Les Indes Galante brings all the soloists together for the only time during the recital and contrasts with Vaste empire des mers that follows – so imaginatively conjured up by Rameau once again complete with baroque sound effects and skilful use of the chorus and demonstrating why this composer’s Grands Motets are worth listening to.

The single selection from Castor et Pollux is Téläire’s Triste apprêts. It comes close to being the single highlight from the entire recital with its plaintive bassoons but that honour goes to Coulez mes pleura from Zaïs. It’s the halting, hesitant phrases in both the vocal and orchestral lines and once again the colour that Rameau’s use of the solo flute that makes this air is heart-rending.

The recital ends fittingly with an upstanding performance of Régnez, plaisirs et jeux from Les Indes Galantes.

And there’s no arguing the verve and spirit of Les Ambassadeurs in either their accompaniment of the soloists or in the orchestral inclusions. If you haven’t heard their disc of Vivaldi’s Dresden concerti then I would also recommend that. It not only the enthusiasm and energy of the playing, taut and rhythmically precise, but also the colours that they draw out of the music – such an essential part of Rameau’s sound world.

Take the overture to Pygmalion, the way that the players dig into the opening Grave, the piquancy of the oboes and bassoons and above all the intelligent shaping of the contrasting martial-like and legato passages. And this before they have even reached the elegantly articulated allegro section – every note discernible – and the texture light and airy.

The Contredanse from Les Fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour is positively infectious as is the Tambourins from Les Fêtes d’Hébé while the alternating timbres of the two dances from Les Boréades demonstrate Rameau’s concern of pervading his orchestral textures with the unique colours he could draw from woodwind, brass and percussion.

It’s a shame that the only piece from Hippolyte et Aricie is a very short Ritournelle. Played with an inexorable sense of momentum it is nicely offset by the rhythmic majesty of the aptly-named Ballet Figuré from Zoroastre. The subsequent Air tendre en rondeau is subtly built on the tension between the flute solo and string counterpoint below. And while no French Baroque disc would be complete without a Chaconne – here represented in all it’s grandeur from Les Indes Galantes – the orchestral highlight of the disc is the Sommeil from Dardanus. The delicacy of the playing, the colours that Kossenko coaxes from the orchestra and the deliberateness of the phrases are heart-stopping.

Rameau may have come to opera late in his career but these performances demonstrate the inventiveness and life he breathed into French baroque opera.

And despite my small reservations, whether you’re an enthusiast – or someone who would more usually bypass Rameau – this disc is worth a listen.


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