French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau left behind an extraordinary wealth of orchestral music, but little to none of it is of the stand-alone variety, scattered as it is throughout his 18 operas and 13 ballets left to posterity, in whole or in part. Conductor Marc Minkowski has elected to redress the imbalance by compiling 17 of Rameau's best orchestral moments into Une Symphonie Imaginaire, an "imaginary symphony" performed by period instrument ensemble Les Musiciens du Louvre and issued on compact discs by Archiv Produktion. This type of montage of related bits and pieces from various scores morphed, if you will, into a single work is a time-honored tradition, particularly as it relates to Baroque music; for example, Sir John Barbirolli's Suite for wind & strings arranged from bits and pieces of Henry Purcell or Sir Hamilton Harty's arrangements from Handel. Yet Une Symphonie Imaginaire is a world away from the Baroque boom of the 1930s.
The sequence of pieces here, drawn from the operas Zaïs, Les Fêtes d'Hébe, Dardanus, Le Temple de la Gloire, Les Boréades, and Hippolyte & Aricie; the ballets La Naissance d'Osiris and Platée; and a contemporary arrangement of the Rameau's keyboard piece La Poule, is mainly intended for this album and not for use in concert. Minkowski does not attempt to assert that his "symphony" drawn from Rameau's music is anything that the composer himself may have devised -- in Rameau's time, the symphony itself was a mere baby, little more than a fancy name for an opera overture. Much of Rameau's music is eccentric and utilizes revolutionary techniques for this era, particularly in fracturing individual lines within the orchestra in order to provide a fragmented, disjunctive quality to the texture. The "Prelude to Act V" of Les Boréades sounds almost like a Baroque overture as reorganized by John Cage. The anonymous arrangement of La Poule is an outstanding character piece and quite unusual for any orchestral music of the mid-eighteenth century.
Overall, Une Symphonie Imaginaire is splendidly well played and sequenced in a fast-moving order, although music-by-the-yard fanatics may find the 56-minute running time too stingy. This Hybrid CD version is to be preferred over the standard CD release, as the latter suffers from an intermittent high end, whereas the Hybrid CD accurately represents this superb Archiv recording for what it is with no dropouts or other sonic anomalies.