Rameau: Les fêtes d’Hébé

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Rameau
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Les fêtes d’Hébé
PERFORMER: Sophie Daneman, Sarah Connolly, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Paul Agnew, Thierry Félix; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-21064-2
This first complete recording of Rameau’s tribute to the lyric arts, poetry, music and dance, is riveting. At first sight, it should not work within the limitations of sound recording. It depends heavily on spectacle, on pastoral stage sets and costume, and movement in dance on any pretext – inserted as allegory, as plot, or in festive rejoicing. The dramatic ‘argument’ is negligible, never developing credible passions within its mythological characters. For instance, in the second of the three ‘entrées’, an oracle decrees that Tyrtaeus must conquer a nation before he and Iphise can marry. He does, and they do!

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But Rameau rises above such limitations with remarkable imagination. His melodic gift is captivating – the simple dance melodies will ring round your head long after the music has ended. He is at the height of his powers as an instrumental colourist. As well as inventive treatments of conventional forces – successively wind, strings, solo bassoon and thrilling trumpets and drums in a chaconne – he introduces exotic instruments including a Provençal three-holed pipe, a drum and a pair of musettes, exquisite quiet bagpipes.

The performers are well-nigh impeccable, from the swirling virtuosity of strings and oboes in the Ouverture, through delights such as a breathtaking little duet of a stream and a naiad (Agnew and Daneman) or a fresh Italianate air from Maryseult Wieczorek (a voice to listen out for), to the fleeting contredanse which fades away as the imaginary curtain closes.

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Christie himself has an uncanny sense of pace to bind together a style potentially so fragmented. With recording quality to match, this is French Baroque music – graceful, decorative and charming – at its very best.