ALBUM TITLE: Rameau: Ballet Suites
WORKS: Platée Ballet Suite; Pigmalion Ballet Suite; Dardanus Ballet Suite
PERFORMER: European Union Baroque Orchestra/Roy Goodman
CATALOGUE NO: 8.55749
It was common 18th-century practice to cherry-pick the dance movements from French opera to create self-standing Suites, charming and colourful even though divorced from stage spectacle and movement, and from their (often tenuous) dramatic context. The variety here is striking: the overtures to Platée, with rhetoric so explicit that it almost speaks to you, and to Pigmalion, hovering teasingly between 6/8 and 3/4 time; menuets, one over a drone, another with wind trio, a third strikingly stately and elegant. Some dances are frankly bizarre – one tambourin with unpredictably uneven phrase-lengths, another with piccolos and bassoon in taut dialogue.
The European Union Baroque Orchestra, an EU- and Microsoft-funded training orchestra, completely changes its membership each year. So these three Suites, recorded in three different years and in three different venues, provide a fascinating opportunity to hear an orchestral character develop and grow – only Rameau and Roy Goodman are constant throughout. Though performance standards are never less than good, the 2003 orchestra is the best, lower strings crisper than those of 1999, and wind free of 2001’s occasional mis-tunings. It’s helped by the glorious acoustic of an Oxford church, affording immediacy and presence.
Delightful music, often hauntingly memorable, and always stylishly played – warmly recommended. George Pratt