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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764) 
Orchestral Suites - The complete Philips & Glossa recordings
Les Boréades (1763)
Dardanus (1739)
Castor et Pollux (1737)
Les Indes galantes (1735)
Acante et Céphise (1751)
Les Fetes et d'Hébé
Naďs (1749)
Zoroastre (1749)
Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century/Frans Brüggen
rec. live The Netherlands, 1986-2000.
GLOSSA GCD921125 [4 CDs: 265:19]

It was in 1981 that Frans Brüggen, Lucy van Dael and a group of friends founded the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, a period instrument ensemble that specializes in eighteenth and early nineteenth century music. Their repertoire is wide-ranging, embracing the music of Purcell, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Chopin. There's one other composer they have a special fondness for, and that is Jean-Philippe Rameau. Brüggen not only launched the ensemble with his music, but featured it in his last venture, directing young students from his wheelchair, in a workshop shortly before his death in 2014. From early on he realized the importance of Rameau as a leading 18th century French composer.

These live recordings issued originally on Philips and Glossa were taped between 1986-2000. This is the first time they have been gathered together into a set.  Taking the Baroque suite as a template, Brüggen constructed the suites we have here from interludes, dances and ballets from the various Rameau operas. He was careful to avoid any sections of music where the sung part would be suppressed, i.e. replacing sung parts with instrumental. The operas overflow with stand-alone instrumental sections, and it's these that have been used. The orchestra play them at the lower pitch of A=392.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed everything on offer, I shall mention just some of the highlights. At the top of the list for me is orchestral suite from Naďs (1748). It's attraction is in the panoply of orchestral timbres, which sound pretty impressive, skilfully captured by the adept engineering of the recording.  Brüggen harnasses an assemblage of colourful instrumentation, including flutes, piccolos, musette, oboe, bassoon, trumpet and an array of timpani and percussion. The effect is stunning and, at times, quite volatile.

The latest work here is Les Boréades, composed in 1763 when Rameau was 80. He died a year later. Despite this, the music never seems tired, but revels in its freshness, definitely the product of an inventive mind. It's certainly refreshing to hear the clarinets making a welcome appearance. Generously lavished with melody, the buoyant rhythms of the Gavottes and Air vif greatly add to the allure. I love the lusty exuberance of Contradanse en Rondeau, reinforced by some sensational percussion effects.

Acante et Céphise (1751) is another high point in the set. The woodwinds seem to feature prominently, and assist in conveying the pastoral character of the suite. Brüggen, who was an accomplished recorder player himself, must have delighted in this score, and he draws infectious enthusiasm and commitment from the orchestra. The jaunty Tambourins sparkles with effervescence, whilst the Minuets delivers some enchanting wind sonorities.

I'm a keen enthusiast of Frans Brüggen's recordings and at the top of my list are his two Beethoven Symphony cycles and his complete Schubert Symphonies, not to mention his forays into Haydn and Mozart. There's just so much high quality to be had. I've always enjoyed the freshness and vitality he brings to his performances, blowing way the cobwebs of time. This latest box set lives up to my expectations. These live recordings have been superbly captured, and emerge in first-class sound. In every case, the engineer’s careful microphone placement as resulted in detail and balance that can't be faulted in any way. The lovely accompanying booklet, in English, French and German, contains a cache of black and white photographs showing the great man himself in action. I certainly intend to return to these wonderful recordings often.

Stephen Greenbank



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