Following on acclaimed releases of Bellerophon and Phaeton, Christophe Rousset continues his revival of Lully's tragedies lyriques for the Aparte label with Amadis. One of the composer's finest scores, Amadis is a masterpiece of French Baroque music. It was Louis XIV himself who asked Lully and his librettist Quinault to base an opera on Montalvo's Amadis de Gaula. Avoiding the usual mythological subjects gave the composer and librettist an opportunity to expand the scope of the tragedie lyrique genre.
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.
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.
Les fêtes de Paphos (The Festivals of Paphos) is an opéra-ballet in three acts (or entrées) by the French composer Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville. The work was described as a ballet héroïque on the title page of the printed score. Each act had a different librettist. Les fêtes de Paphos was first performed at the Académie royale de musique, Paris on 9 May 1758 and was a popular success. Mondonville recycled material from two of his previous operas for the first two acts, namely Erigone (1747) and Vénus et Adonis (1752), both originally composed for Madame de Pompadour's Théâtre des Petits Cabinets. The title of the work is explained in the preface to the printed score. Paphos was a city in Cyprus sacred to Venus, the goddess of love. "Reunited on the island of Paphos, Venus, Bacchus and Cupid decide to enliven their leisure in such a pleasant location by celebrating their first loves, and this gives rise to the following three acts and the title Les fêtes de Paphos."
Certainly the somber beauty of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater for soprano, alto, and strings has a lot to do with its popularity. But it must be said that the story of the 26-year-old composer completing the work on his deathbed has always been too romantic for the public–or the music business–to resist. "The instant his death was known," wrote the famous 18th-century traveler Dr. Burney, "all Italy manifested an eager desire to hear and possess his productions." And so it's been ever since. In spite of the competition already on the market, it seems Decca just had to get its prize lyric soprano and hotshot young countertenor together to record the piece. –Matthew Westphal
Founded in 1991 by Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques are now internationally recognised for their excellence in the Baroque repertoire and their latest recordings in the genre, for Aparté, have earned them international acclaim. After the huge success of 'Bellérophon', they now present Lully's 'Phaéton', recorded at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in October 2012. The critics commented on the admirable clarity and precision of the performance, the perfection of the choruses, sung with veracity by the Namur Chamber Choir, and an ideal cast.
In 1745, the king granted Jean-Philippe Rameau the position of Composer du cabinet du roy, which came with a pension. This new period would see productions in a lighter vein, in collaboration with the librettist Louis de Cahusac, and some of the Burgundian musician's most important masterpieces. 'Zaïs', performed in 1748 on the stage of the Académie Royale de Musique, is one of them. This ballet-héroïque gave French music one of its finest works.