October 2005

Rameau - une symphonie imaginaire
Les Musiciens du Louvre; Marc Minkowski, conductor
DG Archiv B0004478-02
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

Both Marc Minkowski and Philippe Beausaant, in their brief notes for this disc, quote Michel-Guy de Chabanon’s obituary remark that "as a writer of operatic symphonies Rameau never had a model or a rival." He is still widely regarded as the most imaginative French composer for the orchestra before Berlioz. As Rameau never wrote a work for orchestra without voices, however, Minkowski has assembled this "imaginary symphony," which is not a symphony based on Rameau’s tunes, but simply an imaginative selection of 16 attractive numbers taken from Rameau’s operas and opera-ballets -- Zaïs, Platée, Les Boréades, Castor et Pollux, Les Fêtes d’Hébé, Le Temple de la Gloire, Dardanus, Les Indes galantes, Naïs, La Naissance d’Osiris, Hyppolyte et Aricie. There’s also the familiar keyboard piece La Poule, "The Hen", which the composer himself revised as a piece of chamber music and so highly regarded an orchestrator as Ottorino Respighi included in his orchestral suite The Birds.

One might say there was no need for such a compilation, as concert suites of dances from Rameau’s stage works have been in circulation since his own time, but Minkowski and his original-instruments players (tuned to alt Kammerton pitch, A=415) perform this music with such grand style and obvious affection that any such reservations are beside the point.

This is a release that really defines its own terms, though Harmonia Mundi, in its earlier recordings of Minkowski and others in similar material, has given us a bit more or both sparkle and mellowness than Archiv conveys in its good but hardly exceptional sonic frame. The program is also available as a hybrid multichannel SACD.