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Jean-Philippe Rameau [Source: Wikipedia]
06 Oct 2014

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Jean-Philippe Rameau [Source: Wikipedia]


To commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of Jean-Philippe Rameau, they presented the Wigmore Hall audience with a vibrant sequence of instrumental numbers and arias entitled Les surprises de l’Amour. At the 1748 premiere of Rameau’s eponymous ballet héroïque, King Louis XV is reputed to have yawned, declaring that he would have preferred a comedy.

At the Wigmore Hall London, there were certainly no yawns; but there was much laughter to complement passionate love and lyrical dignity in a performance which combined wit and charm with nobility and grace.

Throughout, Correas successfully strove to embody a Baroque spirit of theatre and imagination. Contrasts of dynamic, register and timbre were exaggerated and celebrated, textures were by turns airy, then plangent, and such vivid shifts engendered a dramatic, playful - and at times, fantastical - mood. Equally at home with the jovial and the sensual, the instrumentalists of Les Paladins - the five female violinists standing to the left, while the male lower strings and woodwind players occupied the right of the stage - entered fully into the spirit of Correas’s endeavour, playing expressively and vivaciously, and giving each musical motif and melody a fresh character.

Tempi were lively. In the Ouverture from Les Indes galantes an airy buoyancy was enriched by accented chromatic dissonances and tight trills, and the strings’ crystalline runs were matched by the bright vitality of the flutes (Jacque-Antoine Bresch, Lorenzo Brondetta). The dashing semi-quavers of the Ouverture from Les fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour fizzed with energy, while the piercing gleam of the flutes alleviated the brooding solemnity of the slow opening.

The comic sensibilities of Louis XV’s court were deliciously captured in the Act III Chaconne from Platée. The opera tells the story of Jupiter, who flirts with the ugly swamp-dwelling nymph Platée in order, ironically, to convince his jealous wife Juno of his constancy; the exaggeration of registral extremes, melodic leaps and dynamic outbursts enlivened the endless ground bass repetitions, and conveyed the absurdity of the context. Rhythmic bite and dramatic contrasts were also the order of the day in four short dances from Les surprises de l’Amour, where the boisterous tambourin was followed by a graceful contredanse, the casual pianissimo close of the latter suggesting a nonchalant, flirtatious bow of aristocratic leave-taking. The final instrumental number, ‘Air pour des fous gais et des fous tristes’ (Songs of happy and mad fools) juxtaposed the elegant trio of leader Juliette Roumailhac, Benoît Bursztejn and Nicolas Crnjanski (cello) with the full-bodied exuberance of the ensemble’s racing scales.

Alternating with these instrumental numbers, Sandrine Piau performed a series of airs ranging from the delicately beautiful to the fierily virtuosic. Powerful but never strident, elegant but flexible, Piau’s soprano is unfailingly refined and alluring. The sound is clean, and what it might lack in range of colour is more than outweighed by her ability to spin a naturally evolving melody. Piau thoroughly enjoyed the drama of these airs, too, expertly conveying character. Regal poise characterised the opening bars ‘Règne Amour’ from Les surprises de l’Amour, as Piau communicated the passionate sentiments of the text with beauty of line and expressive, relaxed trills. With the call to Venus to ‘Fire your conquering darts’ (‘Lance tes traits vainqueurs’), she unleashed a light and agile line, supported by nimble violin runs. There was nobility too in the funeral lament from Castor et Pollux, ‘Tristes apprêts, pâles flambeaux’ (Sad adornments, pale torches), in which the painful but dignified grief of Castor’s beloved, Telaire, was communicated directly and intensely. The nuanced rising appoggiaturas at the phrase endings, and the additional chromaticisms in the da capo repeat, movingly enhanced the mood of mournful distress, while bassoonist Nicolas Pouyanne conversed with the voice with eloquent gravity. In contrast, ‘Brillez, Astres nouveaux’ (Shine, new stars!) from Act 5 of the same opera made for a sparkling end to the first half of the recital. During a Festival of the Universe, when Telaire is granted a place in the firmament, a Planet sings this ariette, and the celebratory mood was captured by the bright, Italianate, decorative instrumental parts and Piau’s gleaming sheen and rhythmic energy.

The musical highlight of the evening was ‘Je vole, amour’ (I fly, love) from Les Paladins in which the pure loveliness of Piau’s tone was hypnotising: the sustained floating line was an unbroken legato thread - a perfect embodiment of the undying, faithful devotion which breaks the chains of imprisonment. Piau’s perfectly placed intervallic leaps were pristinely negotiated - she slipped effortlessly from the stratospheric heights - and the ornaments judicious and finely controlled.

The soprano’s comic vivacity came to the fore in the final item, ‘Formon les plus brillants’ (Let us organise a dazzling concert’) from Platée, in which Folly, carrying Apollo’s lyre, bursts in during the performance of the ‘Songs of the happy and sad fools’, and announces the commencement of the very concert that she has so impetuously interrupted. Piau relished the ensuing mockeries and shenanigans; not once did the on-stage antics with the harp, exaggerated theatricalities or switches between declamation, spoken dialogue and song temper the musical sureness and beauty.

A programme of eighteenth-century French opera might have appeared at first glance somewhat rarefied and dry. This performance was anything but. Exalted, yes: in that it was a stylish, elegant presentation of an esoteric selection of works, delivered with wit, poise and sublimity. The marriage of effortless technical proficiency with natural musicianship made for an elevating evening.

Claire Seymour


Ouverture from Les Indes galantes; Ouverture from Les fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour; ‘Tristes apprêts’ from Castor et Pollux; Chaconne from Platée; ‘Brillez, astres nouveaux’ from Castor et Pollux; Loure, menuet, tambourin, contredanse from Les surprises de l’Amour; ‘Je vole, amour’ from Les Paladins; ‘Air pour des fous gais et des fous tristes’ from Platée; ‘Formons les plus brillants ... Aux langueurs d’Apollon’ from Platée

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