Les Fêtes de Polymnie
CAST: Aurélia Legay: Mnémosyne, Hébé, Argélie; Emőke Baráth: Polymnie, une Suivante d’Hébé, une Syrienne; Márta Stefanik: La Victoire; Véronique Gens: Stratonice, Oriade; Mathias Vidal: Le Chef des Arts, Alcide, Antiochus; Thomas Dolié: Jupiter, Séleucus, Zimès; Domonkos Blazsó: Le Destin
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra
György Vashegyi, conductor
Royal festivities made 1745 a busy year for composer Jean-Philippe Rameau: first, he had to compose La princesse de Navarre and Platée for the wedding of the Dauphin, Louis XV’s elder son, and then he attended to the composition of Les Fêtes de Polymnie and of Le Temple de la Gloire to celebrate the French victory at Fontenoy.
Despite the many demanding tasks, not a sign of strain, not the least impression of weariness spoils the music of the ballet héroïque Les Fêtes de Polymnie, a little miracle that actually took advantage from the recent La princesse de Navarre, a refined comédie ballet that was performed only at Court and that was suitable to be reused in front of a wide and unaware audience. It is probable that Les Fêtes de Polymnie too were intended for the Court, but a cabal forced Rameau to perform it at the Académie Royale de Musique in Paris, where the first performance took place on October 12th, 1745.
Les Fêtes de Polymnie received few performances, but it was not exempt from criticism and Rameau worked hard to perfect it, making many cuts, rewriting entire passages and revising music and text of the recitatives. Despite this effort, the work was staged again only eight years after the premiere and not for its value but to use it in a controversy on French music. As for what concerns Rameau’s production, Les Fêtes de Polymnie was his first collaboration with librettist Louis de Cahusac, who was to provide Rameau with at least other six texts.
The present recording of Les Fêtes de Polymnie does not only present the listener with an extensive booklet in which history and features of Rameau’s ballet héroïque are analysed to the last detail, but it offers a wonderful performance of this rare work. It may be surprising that the music recorded here is not weighed by thunderous fanfares or martial triumphalism, but it is rather gentle, lively and fluent.
In this case, the merit can be equally divided between the composer and his perfectionism and the accomplished virtuosi that give life to the music. Conductor György Vashegyi, the Purcell Choir, the Orfeo Orchestra and the seven soloists perform its magnificent and a little pompous music in a sparkling way. The many choruses that displeased Rameau’s contemporaries become here one of the main reasons to listen to the work: the Purcell Choir is fabulous and its energy and enthusiasm, together with the incomparable technical rigour, are really contagious. Next to it, the Orfeo Orchestra plays with verve and opulence, while Vashegyi is tireless in giving prominence to precious colours and constantly enriches the orchestral palette.
Among the soloists, the most illustrious name is that of Véronique Gens, singing the roles of Stratonice and Oriade in the second and in the third part of Les Fêtes de Polymnie respectively. Her performance is superb, as it is easy to expect, and the accents with which she gives voice to the two characters would be enough to forget their stereotypes, but her perfect technique and her silvery timbre enrich her performance and make it virtually flawless. The other singers are not inferior in the execution but in few cases their voices are a little less pure and pleasing, though always well trained. Maybe the most stunning among them is baritone Thomas Dolié, whose burnished voice and heartfelt rendition confer depth to his three roles, Jupiter, Séleucos and Zimès.
Les Fêtes de Polymnie would not get a good result if the sound was less than perfect, but in this case it has its richness and clarity intact and allows the listener to enjoy entirely Rameau’s music.