WORKS: Concert ‘Dans le gout theatral’; Concert instrumental sous le titre d’Apotheose
PERFORMER: Bury, Wilcock, Campbell, RossEnglish Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-99761-2 DDD (1990)
John Eliot Gardiner has proved himself a doughty champion of the later French Baroque, cultivating credible performing methods and unearthing undeservedly neglected repertoire. These nine CDs offer both rich musical rewards and an insight into developing approaches to interpretation. The earliest repertoire in the set is the volume of Francois Couperin’s ‘apotheoses’ of Lully and Corelli, a sensual and programmatic feast in which this charmingly didactic composer attempts to reconcile the best of French and Italian taste. The recording, from 1988, is the most recent in vintage, with stylish solo performances which are at their most natural in L ‘apotheose de Lully.
The makeweight on diis disc is Peter Holman’s inflation for orchestra of Couperin’s suite Dans legout theatral of 1724 – an engaging oddity which, played here widi verve and commitment, makes a fine effect.
At the other end of the performance practice spectrum is the 1977 recording of Rameau’s ballet La dansefmm the opera-ballet Les fetes d’Hebe. Both the solo singing and orchestral sound of the Monteverdi Orchestra have a distincdy Romantic glow which, on its own terms, is enjoyable if slightly soporific. Five years later, in the unfailingly delightful orchestral music from Rameau’s opera Dardanus, the playing of the English Baroque Soloists is far more at ease with French style, though it lacks the punch they bring to Les boreades, also recorded in 1982. Viewed by many as one of the greatest of Rameau’s operas, the score is both dramatically effective and a riot of orchestral colour. Gardiner conducts with a real feeling for the way in which instrumental timbre underpins the drama, while in a strong cast Philip Langridge is both stylish and superbly theatrical as Abaris.
Leclair’s single opera Scylla et Glaucus may lack the sheer audacity of his teacher Rameau, but it’s enormously likeable. If anything, the performers respond better and more stylishly to Leclair’s charming if slightly predictable sound-world than in Les boreades, and the conducting preserves a neat balance between drama and ornament. Here as elsewhere it is clear that Gardiner favours intervention over chilly authenticity; whether or not you agree with all his decisions, the clarity of the image he presents is often provocative and always bracing. Jan Smaczny