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RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR

November

Rameau’s inventive overture fizzes, crackles and beguiles in Les Talens Lyriques’ capable hands

David Vickers welcomes Christophe Rousset’s new benchmark recording of Rameau’s Pygmalion, a single-act distillation of the composer’s genius

Rameau Pygmalion. Les fêtes de Polymnie – Suite Cyrille Dubois ten �Pygmalion Marie-Claude Chappuis mez �Céphise Céline Scheen sop �Statue Eugénie Warnier sop �L’Amour Arnold Schoenberg Choir; Les Talens Lyriques / Christophe Rousset Aparté F AP155 (72’ • DDD) Includes libretto and translation

According to the Mercure de France, Rameau composed Pygmalion (1748) in less than eight days, responding rapidly to an urgent commission from desperate directors of the Académie Royale de Musique. This might partly account for Sylvain Ballot de Sovot modelling the libretto on the entrée ‘La sculpture’ in Antoine Houdar de La Motte’s half-century-old text for the opera-ballet Le triomphe des Arts (1700). Taking its story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the sculptor Pygmalion falls deeply in love with a statue he has made, and his emotive pleading to Venus is rewarded when Cupid brings it to life (and, happily, the statue requites her maker’s devotion). The acte de ballet became one of Rameau’s most popular works throughout the

18th century; there were more than 200 performances between 1748 and 1781 (only Castor et Pollux was performed more often).

It has been reasonably popular in modern times too; its brevity, considerable charm and easily accessible plot mean that it is something like an ideal distillation of all Rameau’s genius into a single short act that has a bit of everything (a fantastic overture, vocal airs in different styles and moods, attractive dances galore and even a few bits for a chorus). No doubt this has made Pygmalion easier to tackle in the recording studio than any of the bigger operas, and there have been quite a few recordings: versions on LP conducted by Marcel Couraud (Archiv, 7/63, 4/81) and Nicholas McGegan (Erato, 1984) have never been issued on CD, but there are also versions by Gustav Leonhardt and La Petite Bande (DHM, 2/82, 7/90), William Christie and Les Arts Florissants (Harmonia Mundi, 7/92), and Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel – whose account features an exemplary sculptor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt and statue Sandrine Piau at their mellifluous finest (originally released by Fnac in 1993 but given wider

Christophe Rousset circulation by Virgin’s Veritas label a few years later – 10/93).

Christophe Rousset played the harpsichord on Christie’s recording when he was already becoming established as a distinguished Ramellian in his own right (in the 1990s he won two Gramophone Awards for marvellous recordings of Rameau’s complete Pièces de clavecin and a vibrant collection of orchestral overtures). His refreshing interpretation of Pygmalion was recorded earlier this year at the Theater an der Wien and sets a new PHO T O G R A P H Y

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26 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017

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