LABELS: Harmonia Mundi Suite
WORKS: Pigmalion; Nélée et Myrthis
PERFORMER: Howard Crook, Sandrine Piau, Agnès Mellon, Jérôme Corréas; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: HMT 7901381 Reissue (1992)
Paris has always been a city of fevered factionalism as far as its music is concerned, and even today audiences and critics align themselves immovably behind one or other of the major practitioners of French baroque music, disdaining the achievements of those they perceive as their heroes’ rivals. These two versions of Rameau’s gorgeous 1748 acte de ballet, Pigmalion – to use the composer’s preferred spelling – shows how daft such prejudices are, for both have excellent, if slightly different, qualities to commend them.
Willam Christie’s Les Arts Florissants, recorded in 1992, make a slightly thinner sound and play at a lower pitch than Herve Nicquet’s Le Concert Spirituel. But the two casts are equally good. If I marginally prefer Niquet’s softer-toned Jean-Paul Fouchécourt to Christie’s Howard Crook in the title role, the tables are turned in the case of Cephise, where Christie has Agneès Mellon and Niquet uses Greta de Reyghere. Despite his faster speeds, Niquet elicits more sense of space and elegance than Christie, but it’s Christie who, for me, wins in terms of cogency. What will swing the decision for some will be the fillers. Niquet offers just two instrumental airs and Trajan’s delicious birdsong-inflected ‘Ces oiseaux par leur doux ramage’ from the opera-ballet Le temple de la gloire of 1745, while Christie gives another complete acte de ballet, Nelee et Myrthis. Stephen Pettitt