Judith Van Wanroij sings Lully’s Alceste

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COMPOSERS: Jean Baptiste Lully
LABELS: Aparté
ALBUM TITLE: Alceste
WORKS: Alceste
PERFORMER: Judith Van Wanroij, Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Emilano Gonzalez Toro, Ambroisine Bré; Les Talens Lyriques/ Christophe Rousset
CATALOGUE NO: AP164

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Loosely based on Euripides’s drama Alcestis, Lully’s tragédie en musique spans the gamut of human emotion, from high tragedy to frothy comedy. Love in its many guises – passionate, flirtatious, noble and selfless – is the driving force of the opera. The work’s ultimate hero is Alcide (Hercules), a thinly disguised allusion to Louis XIV, whom Lully celebrates in the fawning Prologue and with bellicose and triumphant music. The score is an ever-changing kaleidoscope, with intimate airs and ensembles giving way to declamatory recitatives, vital dances and dramatically charged choruses. Brass and percussion have a field-day in the various militaristic marches and celebratory pieces, sumptuously scored and full of pomp and ceremony.

Directing from the harpsichord, Christophe Rousset brings just the right balance of spontaneity and refinement to this recording. Outstanding among the stylish cast are Judith Van Wanroij as the eponymous heroine, her delivery pliant and lucid, her satin tones persuasively seductive, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (Admète), whose chameleon tenor has an emotive expressive range, changing colour and timbre along with the vicissitudes of the tangled plot, and Edwin Crossley-Mercer, a lustrous-toned Alcide.

Dewy-voiced mezzo Ambroisine Bré deserves mention, too, for her delightfully capricious characterisation of the coquettish Céphise. Most compelling of all, though, is the Nemur Chamber Choir, whose singing is by turns rapt and silky, agile and urgent. Rousset draws alert and vital playing from his crack instrumental ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, while his direction of the unfolding drama is responsive but never overblown.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti