The 250th anniversary year of Rameau’s death is fast coming to an end, but so far it has yielded some real gems.This latest show of instrumental, vocal and operatic treasures at the Wigmore Hall was put on by the French period ensemble Les Paladins and their director Jérôme Correas.
The band takes its name from Rameau’s last staged work, Les Paladins, first performed in 1760 (his final opera, Les Boréades, was cancelled by the Paris Opéra while still in rehearsal following the composer’s death in 1764). A brief excerpt from that work featured in the concert. The aria, ‘Je vole, amour’ typified the strengths and disappointments of the evening. On the down side, the concert was just too short, with only about an hour-and-a-half of music (including three encore pieces). Les Paladins’ and Correas’ aim had been to present a programme of music examining the nature of love in Rameau’s output – a huge task, to which they were ultimately unable to do true justice. Yet, what was presented was done with verve, clarity and musicianship of the highest quality.
In this, Les Paladins were aided by soprano Sandrine Piau, who ranks as one the best interpreters of Rameau’s music. She is technically secure, with an adaptable range and a strong sensitivity to the emotional content of the music and texts. The grief and dignity of Télaïre’s ‘Tristes Apprêts’ from opening of Castor et Pollux were perfectly balanced. The vocal acrobatics of the celebratory ‘Brillez, astres nouveaux’ in the final act of Castor, and of ‘Règne Amour’ from Les Surprises de l’Amour could not have been bettered. At the opposite end of the dramatic spectrum, Folly’s comic turn in ‘Formons les plus brilliants concerts … Aux langueurs d’Apollon’ revealed Piau’s gift for comic acting and self-effacement. But it was the afore-mentioned ‘Je vole, amour’ from Les Paladins that best showed off her supple, yearning voice.
Correas proved a sympathetic and fastidious conductor. His partnership with Piau has already borne fruit in a disc of love-themed arias by composers as diverse as Lully and Grétry. He also showed himself to be a witty commentator – somewhat akin to Christophe Rousset in this respect – with plenty of anecdotes and none-too-serious explanations of Rameau’s complex operatic plots. Les Paladins themselves clearly have plenty of talent, but occasional sags and sourness in the upper strings spoiled several moments in the first half of the concert, despite some very lengthy tuning up. Still, the stately overture to Les Indes Galantes was played with an unusual liveliness, and the rough-edged, peasant origins of the tambourin and contredanse from Les Surprises de l’Amour revealed another facet of Rameau’s music.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.