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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Pygmalion, Acte de ballet RCT52 (1748) [46:48]
Les Fêtes de Polymnie: Suite RCT39 (1745) [24:58]
Cyrille Dubois - Pygmalion
Marie-Claude Chappuis - Céphise
Céline Scheen - La Statue
Eugénie Warnier - L’Amour
Arnold Schoenberg Chor
Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
rec. Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 20-27 January 2017. DDD.
Synopsis, texts and translations included.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com
APARTÉ AP155 [71:46] 

The chief competition for Pygmalion comes from Les Arts Florissants directed by William Christie, whose recording, once available on the super-budget Harmonia Mundi D’Abord label1, was recently reissued on their own section of Harmonia Mundi (HAF8901381, with Nélee et Myrthis).  As I wrote in Download News 2016/5, that’s a very enjoyable performance, but the eclassical.com download is too expensive for UK readers, who should be able to find the CD for less than £7.  Post Brexit devaluation, $17.52 will now cost you even more in £GB.

The new Aparté is also a trifle expensive as a download from eclassical.com for UK purchasers, at $16.15, but the 24-bit costs only a little more, at $19.38.

As so often in French music, William Christie and his team are superb in Pygmalion and that earlier recording takes some beating; as well as the regular Les Arts Florissants line-up, Agnès Mellon, Sandrine Piau and Howard Crook offer superb solo singing.  I might well have passed over this new version as unlikely to challenge it, especially since for the edition employed they have turned to none other than © Les Arts Florissants.  Les Talens Lyriques, however, under the direction of Christophe Rousset, also have a splendid track record in baroque French music. I'm surprised that their very successful Decca L'Oiseau Lyre recording of Rameau overtures is now download only or a special Presto CD.

In the event it seemed inappropriate to try to score these two very fine performances Beckmesser-fashion against each other: both make it abundantly clear why Pygmalion was such a great success in 1748 that it was revived three years later.  Choice between the two can safely be left to price – there’s an undeniable advantage to the Christie in that respect – coupling and recording quality.

It has mostly been the fate of Les Talens Lyriques on recent releases to play second fiddle to a vocalist or vocalists, as on their live recording Farinelli – A Portrait, where Anne Hallenberg rather steals the show, but even there their classy playing didn’t go unnoticed in Michael Cookson’s review.  In Pygmalion they get even more chance to shine.

The big test vocally is for the haute-contre part of Pygmalion himself, very well managed by Howard Crook for William Christie and equally well here by Cyrille Dubois.

Both recordings offer substantial couplings.  Les Fêtes de Polymnie, Rousset’s coupling, is otherwise currently available only from La Tempesta de Mare on Chandos CHAN0810.  Stuart Sillitoe thought this exemplary – review – but I was not alone in finding a lack of oomph and sparkle in this and an earlier Tempesta recording – DL News 2016/2.  There’s also a very fine recording of the complete opera-ballet Les Fêtes de Polymnie on Glossa GCD923502 for the more adventurous.

At least there is that second option for Polymnie, even though it’s one that I can recommend only with caution and certainly, in my estimation, no match for the new Aparté, which has all the qualities which I found lacking on Chandos. Les Arts Florissants seem to be alone, at least in the current catalogue, in offering Nélee et Myrthis.

A third recording of Pygmalion comes without coupling: from La Petite Bande and Gustav Leonhardt on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (download only), the CD is somewhere in my collection but, good as that is, I haven’t been tempted to play it since obtaining the Les Arts Florissants version.

Only the new Aparté is available in 24-bit sound and it is very good indeed.  Whether it’s worth so much more than the 16-bit-only Les Arts Florissants recording is a choice which, happily, I don’t have to make, but you do.  The new recording certainly merits serious consideration.

1 Still available as an inexpensive download, without texts.  The latest Harmonia Mundi contains texts and translations.

Brian Wilson



 

 




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