Notes and Editorial Reviews
I think this Erato [now reissued on Warner Classics 3 CDs]
is the one to have, because of its greater professionalism - it is much better in tune, better balanced (with nine violins against Malgoire's five), better in ensemble - and also because it is more complete...it gives a fairer account of Rameau's work.
It seemed improbable, when the first recording of Rameau's opera-ballet or ballet-hiroique, Les Indes galantes (1735), was issued by CBS last summer , that another would follow so soon . But here we are with a "version originale—enregistrement integral". Well, very nearly original, and very nearly integral. If it were wholly original it would lack the colourful fourth entrée,
"Les sauvages", which Rameau added for the 1736 revivals in response to criticism; but it does give the original version of the third entrée, "Les fleurs", which was modified by Rameau shortly after the first performance. In general, it closely follows the standard text of Dukas's edition, the one published by Durand in the "Oeuvres completes", but there are some minor cuts and adjustments. I am specially glad to have a complete version of "Les fleurs" ; more of the ballet is given here than in the Malgoire recording.
This new version is more traditional than Malgoire's. There are no 'authentic instruments'; indeed in an additional accompanying booklet the conductor JeanFrancois Paillard has stern things to say about their use. The orchestra here is of fourteen strings and eight wind, with harpsichord and percussion; their playing is generally tidy and well poised in the dance movements but never specially spirited. The choir seems rather large and their sound is not ideally clear. There is no strong character about the solo singing. Gerda Hartman, who has half the soprano roles, has a voice quite pretty and quite pure, and she can draw a reasonably shapely line; but the sound is thin, the general effect rather watery. The big storm scene for Emilie in the first entrée, "Le turc genereux", is beyond so ladylike a singer. Jennifer Smith, though one would not suspect her of being French, is more at home in this style, and I was glad that the music for Phani in "Les Incas" fell to her (she does the elaborate lines of "Viens hymen" very nicely, floating her voice effectively), as well as the more demanding role of Fatime in "Les fleurs", with the charming air "Papillons inconstant", and above all Zima's music in "Les sauvaps", which contains two little gems as well as the superb gavotte (adapted from a harpsichord suite) with Adario and the chorus. All her music is tastefully done.
Of the male soloists, John Elwes does particularly well as Tacmas in "Les fleurs", where there is some notably expressive and properly flexible treatment of recitative; and he limns the lines of his more lyrical music with considerable delicacy. Louis Devos is the other tenor, pleasantly smooth and singing with much tenderness in Valere's air in "Le turc", "Sur ces bords", as well as the duet with Emilie, "Volez, Zephyrs"; his tone is even and agreeable right up to the very top of this high part. The baritone, Philippe Huttenlocher, runs the gamut of five different roles quite successfully. He is a shade light for the heaviest of them, though can bluster reasonably convincingly; and he can produce elegant and stylish singing in the more lyrical music like Huascar's louresong "Permettez astre du jour" in "Les Incas". Some general points. The continuo line in the recitatives and the short airs is often heavy and cumbersome, and the combination of this with a forward balance for the bass-line and a backward one for the harpsichord make one much more than usually aware of the top-and-bottom nature of the writing. Double-dotting is done wherever it is needed; notes inegales are used wherever their use can be firmly justified. The recording is good without being specially clear or bright. The main accompanying booklet includes an authoritative note by Francois Lesure as well as the libretto, both very poorly translated.
There is no doubt in my mind that the CBS set gives a more vivid account of the work, with its 'original instruments', its lively rhythms, its generally more strongly committed soloists. Yet I think this Erato is the one to have, because of its greater professionalism - it is much better in tune, better balanced (with nine violins against Malgoire's five), better in ensemble - and also because it is more complete. It may seem a little pale next to the enthusiastic Malgoire set, but in all it gives a fairer account of Rameau's work.
Gramophone, (Review of the original release in February, 1975)
Works on This Recording
Les Indes galantes by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Louis Devos (Tenor),
Jennifer Smith (Soprano),
Philippe Huttenlocher (Bass),
Gerda Hartmann (Soprano),
John Elwes (Tenor)
A Coeur Joie Vocal Ensemble,
Paillard Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1735/1761; France
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