Rameau: Overture to Les fêtes de Polymnie; Overture to Zaïs

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COMPOSERS: Rameau
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Overture to Les fêtes de Polymnie; Overture to Zaïs
PERFORMER: Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
CATALOGUE NO: 455 293-2
This disc illustrates vividly the breathtaking originality of Rameau’s art. From the grand, bizarrely dissonant opening harmonies of the opening of Les fêtes de Polymnie, the first of these 17 opera overtures, the ear is constantly arrested, not to say shocked. Rameau’s art is unfailingly compelling, often startlingly bold; it defies convention and is guaranteed to quieten the rustlings of an audience settling down for its evening’s music-theatre. At times, one is reminded of CPE Bach – in the overture to Zaïs, for example, with its exposed martial drumbeats and its arresting sequence of abrupt and restless, unrelated key-changes (actually supposed to represent the distillation of the Elements). The orchestration is remarkable here too, with piccolos adding their sinister shrillness to the stormy music. In Les Paladins, trilling horns scythe their way through the texture; in Acante et Céphise, clarinets are used – rare at the time.

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The performances are scintillating. Christophe Rousset’s group, Les Talens Lyriques, plays everything with a combination of dash and elegance – to the degree that this disc is already on my list of orchestral recordings of the year. Stephen Pettitt