RAMEAU: The Sound of Light – Music from Les Fêtes d’Hébé, Zoroastre, Platée, Les Indes galantes, Les Boréades, Naïs, Hippolyte et Aricie, Castor et Pollux, Dardanus and Six concerts en sextuor – Nadine Koutcher, soprano/ Alexei Svetov, bass / MusicAeterna Orchestra & Choir/ Teodor Currentzis – Sony Classical 88875014502, 67 mins. (2/3/15) ****(*):
A quick look at the list of mostly operas and opera-ballets by Jean-Philippe Rameau from which trending Teodor Currentzis made his pick tells you it better be flashy because it sure ain’t deep. And so it is: flashy, brilliant and relentlessly passionate. In other words, totally appropriate to Rameau, which makes The Sound of Light a fabulous, stunning introduction to the world of perhaps the greatest Technicolor French composer from the 18th century who has not yet become a household name in the United States.
To track this quickly, check out the sheer radiant, sublime beauty of Nadine Koutcher singing an aria about love, death and the passing of light from Castor et Pollux; the exhilarating virtuoso orchestral explosions in Zoroastre and Platée; and the iconic drum dance from Dardanus.
Interpretively, Currentzis leads his MusicAeterna forces, which include a full symphonic complement of more than 40 violins, violas, cellos and doublebasses, with pace and intent that is conventional when compared to the authentic movement’s leading edge, or even its center. The orchestra is tuned down to 430, which pleasantly moderates the highs and cushions the lows, and the woodwinds sound like a talented lot, and the effect is more like the Vienna Philharmonic playing Rameau than transcendent geniuses like John Eliot Gardiner .
For Rameau newbies, the effect will be intoxicating nevertheless; for Rameau cognoscenti, it’s also a must hear because everybody, due to its inclusion on prestigious best of the year lists, may soon be talking The Sound of Light, Rameau and Currentzis.
Besides, if you have heard Rameau performed by the likes of Gardiner and Christophe Rousset, and seen the scandalous French productions on DVD of his operas, you will be able to look them in the eyes and tell them, “if you like Currentzis and MusicAeterna doing Rameau, you ain’t heard nothing yet!”
Recorded at the Tchaikovsky Theater in Perm, Russia, where MusicAeterna is based, the sound is rich and strong but not very subtle. The liner notes begin with a paean to Rameau and light from Currentzis himself; there are stiffly-translated English notes and texts for the music. [When was in Russia in 1957 I also got stiffly-translated texts on the music, so that hasn’t changed…Ed.]