What a splendid idea it was to make a programme of overtures by Rameau; I’m surprised nobody has done it until now. Christophe Rousset has assembled a fairly comprehensive list of pieces from among Rameau’s stage works, with only a handful or so unrepresented. Rameau was an orchestrator of rare and individual genius and his operas, ballets and smaller entertainments are generously provided with some of the most original and alluring dances, overtures and assorted ‘symphonies’ to emerge from the eighteenth century, or indeed, any other.
Roughly speaking, the music on this disc was written between 1733, the date of Rameau’s first opera Hippolyte et Aricie and 1761 when he produced his comedie-lyrique, Les Paladins. The other major work of his old age, Les Boreades has not been included here and is the only important piece to have been omitted from the list. Lovers of Rameau’s music will be thoroughly familiar with most of the music played on the disc but will be delighted, as I was, to find some rarities, too. The most remarkable of these is the overture to the pastorale-heroique, Acante et Cephise. It was commissioned to celebrate the birth of the Duke of Burgundy in 1751. High hopes of him were entertained as a future king of France but in fact he died ten years later. Adulatory prologues were out of fashion by the 1750s but instead Rameau attempted something entirely new – a portrayal in music of the good wishes of the nation, and the public rejoicing at the news of the Prince’s birth. Rameau had already experimented with programmatic elements and vivid tone-painting in his overtures, notably in those of Platee (1745), and Zais (1748), both of which are included in this anthology. The overture to Acante et Cephise, is different again with its inclusion of specific ‘occasional’ references. Its three sections are marked “Voeux de la Nation”, “Feu d’Artifice” whose bass-line is punctuated by cannon-fire and “Fanfare”. “Feu d’Artifice” is the most original of them both for this startling effect – thunderously captured in the recording, by the way, and for Rameau’s wonderfully colourful and free wind textures, especially those of flute and clarinet.
Les Talens Lyriques respond admirably to this music, relishing every bar of it in performances which are refined in ensemble and articulate in speech. Rousset has proved himself a fine exponent of this hugely rewarding repertoire. An outstanding disc. Overlook it at your peril. '