WORKS: Les fetes de Paphos
PERFORMER: Sandrine Piau, Veronique Gens, Agnes Mellon, Jean-Paul FouchecourtAccentus Chamber Choir, Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
CATALOGUE NO: 455 084-2
In mid-18th-century Paris, Mondonville’s star shone brightly indeed. A favourite of Louis XVs mistress, Madame de Pompadour, his reputation and esteem rivalled the great Jean-Philippe Rameau. His relegation to being hardly more than a name in the history books is rough justice; if he lacks the depth of Rameau, his music, as this first recording of the ‘heroic ballet’ Paphos shows, is well above the average in an age of remarkably high standards. His fine ear for instrumental colour, graciously melodic approach to recitative and genius for enlivening French operatic style with Italianate harmonic and orchestral excitement never failed to delight.
Rousset’s performers have the measure of the work. The orchestral playing is brilliant even if the woodwind and brass occasionally shatter the illusion of perfection. The seven outstanding soloists have a fine command of the ornamental vocal style and a genuinely theatrical presence. Véronique Gens’s Venus is superb, with ravishing tone and affective delivery; Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Olivier Lallouette and Peter Harvey take on a variety of roles to magnificent effect. The odd blemish aside, this enormously impressive issue will prove a rich treasure-store for anyone interested in opera before Mozart. Jan Smaczny