RAMEAU: Pygmalion; La Dauphine; L’Impatience – Mathias Vidal (Pygmalion)/ Jennifer Lane (Cephise)/ Rebecca Choate (La Statue)/ Ava Pine (Amour)/ Brent Wissick (viola da gamba)/ James Richman, harpsichord and conductor/ Concert Royal Orchestra and Chorus – Centaur 3011, 61:19 [Dist. by Naxos] *****:
Centaur has done us all a great favor in recording this Pygmalion, the storey of the artist who falls completely in love with the statue he is sculpting, abandoning his current love, Cephise, who though she realizes she has lost our hero, curses him to deserving the fact of his unrequited passion. Rameau evidently decided not to engage in any probing of the jilted lover but instead to concentrate only on the miraculous bringing to life of the statue and the triumph of love, thanks to the god Amour. This was a very popular piece in its time, with its upbeat context and gloriously perceptive music, always leaving the audience in a good mood when over.
This performance attempts to “get” Rameau’s orchestration right, something that has been more than tampered with by all manner of artists for ages now, trying their best to make sense of what the composer wrote and to contextualize it for modern audiences. Here we have essentially two orchestras—one for arias and recitatives, and another rather large one (8 violins, 2 violas, four cellos, one violone, 2 each of flutes and oboes and bassoons, and harpsichord of course—which tends to be written out when the full forces are in effect). It seems to work very well, providing nice contrast and dramatic reinforcement, considering the number of balletic dances that Rameau includes in his works (the French of his day were mad about the ballet). The orchestral and choral forces are sprightly, warm-sounding, and obviously heavily invested in this music from an emotional standpoint. New high tenor Mathias Vidal sings with persuasion and commitment in a wonderful reading, and all of the soloists are remarkably adept at the style, even the choruses, never letting its full forces get in the way of a delectably lithe and bouncing artistry that really brings the music to life.
And what music it is! Rameau at his best.
He left us very few solo cantatas, but surely L’Impatience, telling of a man waiting for his love at pre-dawn, delayed but at last appearing, is one of his best. Centaur has inexplicably omitted the texts for this work, which is inexcusable, but I’ll leave it alone since the quality of this program is so high. The brief curtain pause between the two vocal works, La Dauphine, is an example of an impromptu performance for the Dauphin of France, never published in Rameau’s other collections, and might give a small hint of what his improvisational style was like—pretty impressive.
The sound is very good in this release, perhaps a little muted and set back in some places, but I have no complaints when the music is so darned good. The American Concert Royal orchestra and chorus is a fixture in Boston and New York since 1989, and play as well as any comparable European band. No regrets on this one—buy it!
— Steven Ritter
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 – Eduard van Beinum – Pristine Audio
A historic rendering of Bruckner’s 9th