Aulos Ensemble

Jean-Phillipe Rameau: Suites from Les Fêtes D'Hébé & Les Indes Galantes

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This little release from the Baton Rouge, LA-based Centaur label offers a fresh way of performing Rameau and an innovative path into his wildly original and often forbidding music. That said, what's offered here by the veteran U.S. historical-instrument group the Aulos Ensemble isn't something that specifically dates from Rameau's time. The group members reason that a good deal of French music from the early eighteenth century appeared in arrangements for small groups like the one heard here -- transverse flute, Baroque oboe, Baroque violin, Baroque cello, and harpsichord. Even arrangements for solo harpsichord, like one that appeared for the massive opera-ballet Les indes galantes, were laid out in such a way that they seemed to suggest that other instruments might have been involved. "We have taken all this as a starting point for our arrangements of this dramatic music," they write in the booklet (which is in English only). They reduce 26 numbers from Les indes galantes and the equally elaborate Les fêtes d'Hébé to chamber dimensions, with an effect something like that of the wind ensemble and string quartet versions of classical symphonies that began to come along. The idea is feasible in itself; Baroque pieces of many kinds made the transition between chamber and orchestral size, and the varied instrumentation gives the players the chance to sketch the elaborate imagery Rameau's music accompanied on the stage. Sample the Prélude pour l'adoration du soleil, Rameau's conception of a New World sun-worshippping rite, for an idea. The execution of the idea is not as uniformly successful; the performers stay within a strictly circumscribed dynamic range, and their clear but reserved playing misses the music's rhetorical gestures and its sheer melodic seductiveness. This is nevertheless an innovative Baroque disc that will especially interest performers in the genre.

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