Anacréon – Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment

Anacréon

For an eighteenth-century opera, Anacréon by the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau is remarkably straightforward.

Chloé and Batile are two young students of the poet-philosopher Anacréon and are too shy to confess their love for each other, so to encourage them, their mentor arranges for them to recite his love poetry at a grand celebration in his garden. Along the way he can’t resist a bit of playful teasing, and he fools Chloé into believing that he himself is in love with her and that the big event is to be their own wedding, but in the end of course it’s Chloé and Batile who are happily united.

The simplicity of the plot may be due to the fact that Anacréon was originally intended as part of a bigger entertainment, but for modern tastes, it stands perfectly on its own at about fifty minutes long, as a very digestible sample of the glories of the French baroque. Rameau actually wrote two one-act operas with this title; the other one, has been recorded a couple of times, but this disc by Jonathan Williams is the world première recording of this 1754 version with a libretto by Louis de Cahusac.

The young girl Chloé gets all of the opera’s best arias, and soprano Anna Dennis gives a lovely clear-voiced and tender performance. Her first aria, ‘Tendre Amour’, with a gorgeously soft and mysterious flute accompaniment played by Lisa Beznousiuk, is achingly sad, and is sung here by Dennis with exquisite control. By the end, when everything has been resolved, she takes flight in ‘L’amour riant’, a delightfully happy and catchy aria, full of laughter, in which love is depicted as Cupid flying around the happy couple. The two male roles get less of the musical action than Chloé, but Matthew Brook as Anacréon and and Agustín Prunell-Friend as Batile support her with strong, elegant singing. Brook is warmly paternal in his opening aria in which he describes his lovely garden and his affection for his two pupils, and the strings add friendly interjections, setting the scene nicely for this gentle comedy.

The fabulously glamourous royal courts of Louis XIV and XV expected lots of dancing in their operas, and so Anacreón duly has a number of dance movements, with the generously large forces of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment nicely capturing the necessary mix of formality and gaiety; it’s supposed to be a bacchanal, but one that takes place strictly within the rigid ceremonial strictures of the French court. The woodwinds and horns particularly shine in these dances, with high virtuousic flute lines flittering around the more solemn oboe and horn parts. Personally I don’t think there is much music that can be improved by adding a tambourine, but formal French baroque dance music wouldn’t be complete without one.

In keeping with convention, the opera closes with a joyous ensemble scene, praising the god Bacchus. The three soloists weave together before the chorus add their voices, and a boisterously cheerful dance rounds things off. This is a fine disc, and an excellent introduction to the distinctive sounds of the French baroque.

Jane Shuttleworth

I play the recorder and perform as a soloist with my chamber music groupThe Neville Ensemble. I've sung in choirs since I was a child, from church choirs, to large choral societies, and I'm now very proud to be a member of the Durham Singers.

I've always enjoyed writing, and I fell into reviewing about five years ago when the classical music website Bachtrack happened to be looking for someone to cover a concert in Durham. Since then, I've written regularly for Bachtrack, the Northern Echo, NE:MM and in 2013 I founded Music in Durham, a concert listing and review site for classical music in Durham. My greatest love is baroque music, particularly Handel.

When I'm not writing, playing, singing or running Durham Singers' publicity, I have a day job in international sales, and in 2012 I wrote and published a book about my favourite Russian author, called "Dostoevsky's Russians".

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