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Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Scylla et Glaucus [159:48]
Emöke Barath - Scylla
Anders J. Dahlin - Glaucus
Caroline Mutel - Circé
Virginie Pochon - Dorine/Vénus
Marie Lenormand - Amour/Témire
Frédéric Caton - Hécate/Chef des peuples
Les Nouveaux Caractères/Sébastien d’Hérin
rec. Opéra Royal du Château de Versailles, France, 29 October-4 November 2014
ALPHA 960 [3 CDs: 50:48 + 49:55 + 59:05]

The French composer, Jean-Marie Leclair, is primarily remembered for his instrumental sonatas, trios and concertos. He is often described as ‘the father of the French violin school’. Scylla et Glaucus is his only venture into the world of opera, although he is known to have contributed to other divertissements and opera-ballets.

Born in Lyon, he soon left for Turin in Italy where he studied dance and the violin. There he came under the influence of the major Italian composers of the day especially Pietro Locatelli. Leclair returned to France in 1723, bringing with him a more Italianate style of composition. He settled in Paris where he performed at the Concert Spirituel. Scylla et Glaucus was composed in 1746 to a French libretto based upon books 10, 13 and 14 of The Metamorphoses by Ovid, although the story is altered to include a Prologue that glorifies Louis XV and the Dauphin. From what we know about the production, it was not held to have much promise, Leclair only being regarded as a violinist. However, the standard of vocal writing was regarded as better than expected. I find it hard to understand why, on this evidence, he was never commissioned to compose other operas.

There is another recording of Scylla et Glaucus by John Eliot Gardiner on Erato but it is so long since I have heard it that I can’t really compare it. All I can say is that this new recording will take some beating. All the principals are in excellent form, with Emöke Barath and Anders J. Dahlin deserving special mention. They seem a nicely matched pairing in the title roles. The chorus is well balanced and the musicians of Les Nouveaux Caractères under the expert leadership of Sébastien d’Hérin play with a verve and passion all too often missing from recordings these days. The recording itself, all though not stated, sounds live at times, with this only adding to the overall excitement and effect. This set is a must for any aficionado of French baroque music or eighteenth century opera in general.

The booklet notes by Benoît Dratwicki of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles are excellent and informative. They accompany the full French libretto with English translation. It is a shame therefore that Alpha stuck them to the first page of the folding digipack making the whole package somewhat unwieldy. Don’t let this put you off investing in this wonderful production which will certainly feature in my reckoning for Recording of the Year.

Stuart Sillitoe



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