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CD: Crotchet

Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Anacréon (1757) [39.30] (1)
Le Berger fidèle (1728) [15.07] (2)
Anacreon - Thierry Félix (baritone) (1); Priestess of Bacchus - Veronique Gens (soprano) (1); Cupid - Annick Mathis (soprano) (1); Agathocle - Rodrigo del Pozo (haut-contre) (1); Veronique Gens (soprano) (2); Chorus of Les Musiciens du Louvre; Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
rec. live, November 1995, Cité de la Musique, Salle de Concerts, Paris
Experience Classicsonline

The verse of the Greek lyric poet Anacreon was popular in 18th century France. It was graceful, refined and celebrated love and wine. Something about this must have appealed to Rameau because he wrote two different one-act operas called Anacréon. The second of them has a text by Pierre-Joseph Bernard who wrote the libretto for Castor et Pollux. Anacréon was first performed in 1757 as part of the opéra-ballet Les Surprises de l'Amour.

Les Surprises de l'Amour had a rather complicated history. It consisted of a prologue and three acts, each a complete opera in itself. It was first performed in 1748 in Madame de Pompadour's private theatre. When it was revived in 1757, the prologue was removed as it was no longer topical; it was in the prologues that librettos tended to address the sponsors of the opera. This left Les Surprises de l'Amour with just two acts. It needed a further act and this was where Anacréon came in. One of the existing acts was replaced by Les Sibarites so that Les Surprises de l'Amour of 1757 was very different from the 1748 original.

Pierre-Joseph Bernard's libretto for Anacréon seems to have been around for some time and may date from Bernard's first collaboration with Rameau in 1737 (on Castor et Pollux). Similarly Rameau's music possibly dates from a few years earlier than 1757, so Anacréon may simply have been shuffled into the first suitable slot available.

The plot has little to do with Anacréon's power as poet. It deals with the issue of whether wine and love can coexist. It opens with a feast at the house of Anacréon (Thierry Félix). After choruses in praise of Bacchus, the priestesses of Bacchus and the Maenads enter. They break a statue of Cupid and abduct Anacréon's mistress Lyrcoris (a spoken role).

Left alone the old poet falls asleep and is awakened by a storm. He hears a child (Annick Massis) crying in distress and Anacréon takes pity on him, thinking him a slave boy. The child tells Anacréon that Lycoris has been abandoned by a lover who has devoted too much time to Bacchus. Anacréon realises his own guilt. It dawns on him that the child is Cupid and he vows to give up everything if Lycoris is returned. Cupid reunites Anacréon and Lycoris and makes a reconciliation with Bacchus.

This recording is taken from a live performance which was originally issued in 1997 on Archiv Production (4492112). When it was new Nicholas Anderson cautiously welcomed it, but noted that William Christie's recording from 15 years earlier was still excellent. Now Brilliant have brought the recording out at super-budget price so there is no need to worry - it is definitely worth getting.

Bernard's libretto gives Rameau opportunities for producing a lively and varied score which includes choruses to Bacchus, dances for Les Suivantes de l'Amour and a brilliant storm, which includes a reminiscence of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Rameau creates something of a thematic unity in the piece. The opening revelry is bound together by a repeating chorus from the guests and uses music from the opening ritournelle. Music from the ritournelle also recurs in Cupid's aria 'Avant ce jour'.

Annick Massis makes a charming and appealing Cupid and Véronique Gens is notable as the Priestess of Bacchus. Thierry Félix, in the title role, seems to sing under the note occasionally but is otherwise fine. Rodrigo del Pozo acquits himself well in the small role of Agathocle.

Minkowski and his ensemble give a lively performance, with the different strands to the music being strongly characterised. The acoustic seems to add a little boom to the sound, but your ear soon accustoms itself to this.

The companion work on the disc is the cantata Le Berger fidèle. It was on these cantatas that Rameau cut his teeth and this one appeared just five years before his operatic debut. It was first performed in 1728. In three arias linked by recitative, it depicts the grief of the shepherd Mirtil for his beloved Amaryllis. And it receives a beautiful and profoundly moving performance from Véronique Gens.

The booklet contains an informative article, detailed track-listing and synopsis; the full libretto of Anacréon (but not Le Berger fidèle) is available from Brilliant's web site, but this contains only the original French with no translation.

This is a highly recommendable disc, especially at super-budget price. The performances are such that anyone will surely want to acquire the disc, but if you are new to Rameau's output then this makes a strong and affordable place to start.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Mark Sealey of the re-release on ArkivMusic



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