It is now some 12 years since William Christie made an excellent disc of Pancrace Royer's only published collection of harpsichord pieces (1746); and it was reissued recently on CD. Royer was a more prominent figure in French musical life than the comparative unfamiliarity of his name nowadays would suggest. He was an imaginative director of the Concert Spirituel, leader for several years of the Opéra orchestra, and a successful composer for the stage, as well. His ballet-héroIque, Zalde (1739) was especially popular and was still being performed in the 1760s. La Chasse do Zaide is the composer's own harpsichord arrangement of a "symphonie" in the opera and, in this new recital, Christophe Rousset appends it to the pieces of the 1746 publication. That, too, incidently contains a number of transcriptions by the composer of pieces from earlier stage works.
The Baroque music ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, under Christophe Rousset's baton, performs Rameau's Les Indes galantes at the Opéra National de Bordeaux in a sensual and politically engaged production directed by Laura Scozzi, on the occasion of the festivities organized to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Jean-Philippe Rameau's death.
Christophe Rousset's collection of overtures to 17 of Rameau's operas and opéra-ballets, played by his original instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, won a 1998 Gramophone award for best Baroque non-vocal CD, and it's easy to hear why this outstanding performance was recognized. The ensemble plays with unflagging liveliness and brilliant, clean tone. The rhythmic vitality Rousset coaxes from his players is toe-tappingly engaging; at the same time, he maintains a fluidity that avoids metronomic rigidity. The tempos he takes sometimes have a breathtaking fleetness that leaves the listener marveling at the players' virtuosity. The overtures are mostly brief, usually four or five minutes long, but they each contain a world of volatility and drama. Many of them are wonderfully eccentric, with startling juxtapositions and exotic orchestral combinations that keep them from ever settling into any kind of easy predictability.
Written in 1797, Cherubini's faithful version of Euripides' ancient tragedy is one of the most savage and powerful works of the opera repertoire, relating the cruel vengeance of a wounded woman for whom infanticide seems to be the only solution to her humiliation in love. As a continuation of Gluck's music, Cherubini's work is of boundless emotion, at once a refined, terrifying and desperate portent of a tragic outcome.