Rameau: Le berger fidèle; La danse from Les fêtes d’Hébé

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rameau
LABELS: Newport
WORKS: Le berger fidèle; La danse from Les fêtes d’Hébé
PERFORMER: Howard Crook (tenor), Ann Monoyios, Christine Brandes (soprano), Nathaniel Watson (bass-baritone)Concert Royal Chorus & Orchestra/James Richman
CATALOGUE NO: NPD 85555 DDD (distr. RRD)
Another disc to satisfy the current resurgence of interest in French Baroque music.

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The output of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), prolific composer of tragédies-lyriques, comédie-lyriques, opéra-ballets, comédie-ballets and most other possible combinations, marks a loosening up of Lully’s style, a looking towards the beginnings of Classicism. Recitative melts almost imperceptibly into short airs; there are few long set pieces and, especially on this disc, a lot less grandeur and posturing and more modest scenarios, in an idealised world of shepherds and shepherdesses.

Le berger fidèle, set to a hugely popular text by Guarini, is a secular cantata but, except for the fact that all the characters and narrative are sung by the same solo voice, comes closest to Rameau’s operatic style. Howard Crook’s lyrical tenor is well suited to this music, and the ‘Air gai’, with sprightly accompanying violin playing by Ryan Brown, is particularly good. This is currently the only recording of this work in the catalogue.

Conversely La danse, the last of three sections of Rameau’s 1739 Les fêtes d’Hébé (the other two being devoted to music and poetry), has already been recorded by the Monteverdi Choir and John Eliot Gardiner. Such duplication seems a pity when so much of Rameau’s music has yet to make it onto disc. Rameau the master dance composer is in his element here, in a charming succession of French dances – Musette, Gavotte, Rigaudon, Loure grave, Minuet, Passepied, ending with the celebrated Tambourin – all neatly rendered by the New York-based Concert Royal Orchestra. These are worked loosely into the plot, in which Mercury falls in love with the shepherdess Eglé.

Howard Crook (Mercury) is joined by the pleasing sopranos of Ann Monoyios (Eglé) and Christine Brandis (Shepherdess). Nathaniel Watson’s lugubrious baritone, however, is far too woolly for this style, and his ornamentation is laid on with a trowel.

Watson aside, the performance is good; but my appreciation of the disc as a whole was marred by the tinny sound, particularly when strings and harpsichord were playing.

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The booklet, though seemingly cheaply produced, is partially vindicated by providing full French text and translations. Janet Banks