Sébastien d’Hérin conducts Leclairs Scylla & Glaucus

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Jean-Marie Leclair
LABELS: Alpha
ALBUM TITLE: Leclair
WORKS: Scylla & Glaucus
PERFORMER: Emöke Barath, Anders Dahlin, Caroline Mutel, Virgine Pochon; Les Nouveaux Caractères/Sébastien d’Hérin
CATALOGUE NO: Alpha ALPHA 960

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Leclair’s only opera is virtually unknown today but, musically, it’s a masterpiece – one of the great French tragédies. The drama spans the gamut of Baroque affects: love and desire, joy and sorrow, passion and revenge all unfold in its pages. Leclair responds with liquid and expressive recitatives, arias by turns tender, lyrical, ornate and fiery, and ravishing dance music. The vibrant orchestral writing sets scenes and underscores emotions: pastoral woodwinds, including the courtly musette, paint the faux rustic backdrop; muted and pizzicato strings weave spellbinding textures in the love scenes, while strident brass and flashing violins dramatise the flaming fires of Inferno.

Over 30 years ago, John Eliot Gardiner recognised the work’s strengths, and his subsequent recording on Erato still sounds bracing and stylish. In keeping with the opera’s galant aesthetic, Sébastien d’Hérin here favours a more restrained and elegant approach, drawing graceful and animated playing from his crack ensemble.

Based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the action centres on the ill-fated love triangle between the sea-god Glaucus, the beguiling nymph Scylla, and the seductive and vengeful sorceress Circé. Swedish tenor Anders Dahlin makes an ardent Glaucus, his voice lucid and his phrasing eloquent. Emöke Barath’s soprano is aptly mellifluous for the role of Scylla, though her French diction is an intermittent problem. Caroline Mutel (Circé) charms with a heady coloratura and more honeyed tones, but she lacks dramatic weight for the infernal scenes and vengeance arias.

Despite the close and airless recorded balance, the sheer quality of the music nonetheless makes this an irresistible disc.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti