LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
PERFORMER: Sophie Daneman, Claire Brua, Jacques Bona, Nicolas Rivenq; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901424/5 DDD
French Baroque operas on religious subjects are something of a rarity, a situation which the librettist of Michel Pignolet de Montéclair’s Jephté chose to commemorate in a long apologia. No one need worry: the classical gods may be chased away in the prologue, but the remaining five acts are far from bleakly biblical.
In fact, Jephté, in this lively and sympathetic performance by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants turns out to be one of the most attractive tragédies lyriques between Charpentier and Rameau. There is ceremonial aplenty and the senses are chastely ravished by a magnificent, pastoral fourth act as Iphise muses on her fate by the banks of the Jordan. The one disappointment is that the Deus (normally ex machina) is Jehovah himself; he therefore remains in the mind, which leads to a rather lame denouement, though Montéclair does reveal a brisk sense of pace and a genuine feel for the drama.
As a whole, the performance is highly enjoyable, with alert performances from choir, orchestra and continuo. An exception is some distressingly queasy intonation at the start of Act IV. Not all of the solo singing is ideal: Claire Brua is an overly matronly Venus in the prologue, although she improves as Almasie, the wife of Jephté, in the main drama. Jacques Bona, as Jephté himself, is magnificent and does much to ensure the success of the set. Jan Smaczny