The lighter music of the splendid French Baroque remains in need of greater exposure, making this disc of cantatas by the young Jean-Philippe Rameau and André Campra a welcome arrival. Here is some of the music the royals and aristocrats heard not in halls of opera and ballet but in more intimate surroundings, for amusement, with one or two singers and a small instrumental grouping. The language is, however, basically operatic, and annotator Charles Medlam points to Rameau's cantatas as places where he worked out some of his later operatic ideas. The charm of the Rameau piece lies more in the recitatives than in the airs, little tunes that have a nice way of growing out of both the action and musical construction illustrated by the recitatives. Consider the opening Les amants trahis (The Betrayed Lovers), with its pair of shepherds lamenting the inconstancy of their sweethearts. One is depressed, while the other urges him to laugh the whole thing off ("scorn the shepherdess and mock the rival!"). The contrast between the two is deftly drawn in Rameau's declamation and heightened by the sprightly singing of baritone Peter Harvey and soprano Philippa Hyde -- to a point where it's good for a smile or even laughter out loud. Love is the primary theme in all these pieces, and Rameau even at this early stage is expert in evoking its sensuous seductions. Added bonuses come in the form of some very rarely performed works: the Burgundian-dialect Air à boire (Drinking Song) of Rameau and Campra's Les femmes for baritone, sort of a dance suite with words that is exquisitely melancholy. The scale of the performance is just right, although in Rameau's Aquilon et Orithie one wishes for a bit more energy when the gods begin unleashing their thunderbolts. (Note also that the opening recitative and air of this cantata have the wrong text heading -- one carried over from the previous Les amants trahis.) A pleasant disc that begins to illuminate the lighter side of Parisian entertainment in the early eighteenth century.
French Cantatas by Rameau and Campra Review
by James Manheim
|Les Amants trahis, cantata for 2 soloists, viol & continuo|
|Aquilon et Orithie, cantata for bass, violin & continuo|
|Thétis, cantata for bass, violin & continuo|
|Les Femmes, cantata|