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GRAMOPHONE (12/2022)
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Reviewer :
Mark Seow

Inviting and informative notes by Benoît Dratwicki and Sylvie Bouissou set a lovely scene: it’s 1745, and King Louis XV has fallen in love with Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson. She was the wife of Charles Le Normant d’Étiolles; that, of course, did not stop the king. She would become his quasiofficial mistress, and as ‘La Pompadour’ was given free rein with the cultural and artistic affairs of the kingdom. Indeed, it was she who shaped the height of refinement that we now describe as ‘rococo’.

Rameau was La Pompadour’s favourite composer, and in 1748 he received a commission for a theatrical work to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession. Le retour d’Astrée was the allegorical prologue to this ballet, and here it is paired with Rameau’s one-act ballet Les Sybarites from 1753. It’s an invigorating performance from Ensemble Les Surprises and Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas. The Overture to Le retour d’Astrée – lively, feisty playing from the strings, and a balance that is indulgently reedy – captures much of the excellent orchestral playing to come. Delightful respite comes in the orchestral minuets (track 16), which swing past with graceful sprightliness. The voices are excellent, too. Philippe Estèphe is a fabulous Vulcan, declamatory and fullbodied in frenzy for his entrance, which towards the end of scene turns to velvet, appealing though still edged with urgency. Soprano Jehanne Amzal stands out for her suppleness: for her closing aria, in which she describes the peace that makes all hearts content and love enduring, she balances fullness with elasticity. Gorgeous ornaments are tucked in at the end of phrases, and her intonation sparkles. The Ballet pantomime des saisons washes away any wistfulness, and the particularly rumbustious bassoon-playing is a delight.

The principal pair of Les Sybarites – or, more specially, their sensual dialogue – unmistakably alludes to the king and his royal favourite. Presumably ‘Par ces plaisirs’

(track 22) is sung by Marie Perbost as Hersilde, but the booklet notes do not make this clear (and it certainly isn’t the hautecontre of Clément Debieuvre still singing). Indeed, the booklet in general is awkward to navigate, and Alpha’s predilection for capital letters and bold font, particularly on page 6, makes things unenjoyable to read.



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