Lully: Phaëton

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Lully
LABELS: Erato Musifrance
WORKS: Phaëton
PERFORMER: Howard Crook, Rachel Yakar, Jennifer Smith, Véronique Gens, Gérard Theruel, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Philippe Huttenlocher, Laurent Naouri, Virginie PochonEnsemble Vocal Sagittarius, Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-91737-2 DDD
Phaëton, written at the height of Lully’s career, richly merits this revival. The plot inhabits the mystical, exotic area between earthly characters and deities: in his search for glory, Phaëton persuades his father, the Sun, to lend him his fiery chariot. Struck by Jupiter’s thunderbolt, the joyrider finally crashes to his doom.

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Lully and his librettist, Quinault, so integrate music with action and spectacle – stage sets and machinery, costume, dancing – that something is inevitably lost in a concert recording. But Minkowski’s pace and drive compensate for much that is missing. The fluid musical speech of French récit, sung so rhythmically, slips almost imperceptibly into charming, measured air and back again, creating a fine sense of dramatic continuity. Although there are no independent divertissements, there are two extended passages of delightful music, as dance and celebration are woven into the drama. At times Minkowski is frenetic: as Phaëton’s impending crash threatens to set fire to the whole universe, choir and orchestra engage in astonishing feats of virtuosity.

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Among the soloists, Howard Crook is superb as the posturing Phaëton; Rachel Yakar, intensely expressive as his ambitious mother, sometimes allows passion to affect pitch; while Jean-Paul Fouchécourt’s vocal fluency is outstanding. George Pratt