Rameau: Les Indes galantes

Rameau: Les Indes galantes
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD 924005. 2CDs 60’45+62’56

Première Entrée: Les Incas du Pérou
Deuxième Entrée: Le Turc généreux
Troisième Entrée: Les Sauvages

The place to go to hear fine performances of French Baroque music appears to be Budapest, Hungary, where the pan-European named Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra and their director György Vashegyi have their home base in Müpa Budapest. I first heard them live there in 2017, and have since praised a number of their CDs. The latest is this recording of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Opéra-ballet: Les Indes galantes. It was first performed in Paris in 1735, but with only the Prologue and two of the ultimate four entrées. Thereafter it had a curious career, with several different variations performed in different years. The version used in this recording is from 1761, with Rameau’s various improvements since its première, but with the third entrée (Les fleurs) and a scene from the second entrée (Le Turc généreux) omitted. It was recorded in the days preceding a live concert performance in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall of Müpa Budapest.

The Orfeo Orchestra are outstanding in their spirited and stylistically impressive playing, with György Vashegyi’s intensive knowledge of the French Baroque repertoire very evident in matters of technical detail. He keeps the pace up without excessive speed, and relishes the more dramatic moments, notably the volcanic eruption Les incas du Pérou and the storm scene in Le Turc généreux. He clearly enjoys using the percussion. One of the distinctive features of Rameau opera is his use of orchestral colour, here very evident in the many dance sequences and his distinctive use, for example, of the bassoons to add depth and colour to the overall sound.

The Purcell Choir are equally impressive, with their coherent and balanced sound. These recordings and performances are made in conjunction with the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, who generally provide the vocal soloists. On this occasion, they are Chantal Santon-Jeffery, Katherine Watson, Véronique Gens, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Jean Sébastien Bou and Thomas Dolié who share out a dozen solo roles. All sing well, with intelligent insight into the differing roles. My only quibble with this (and earlier recordings) is the excessive vibrato of many of them. I find this surprising, given their roots in the French Baroque singing tradition where the delicacy of ornamentation is a key stylistic factor. Vibrato tends to interfere with these ornaments, often rendering them almost non-existent. For example, proper vocal trills are frequently replaced by and suspension and vibrato, rather than an articulated interchange of adjoining notes. On this recording, it is the higher voices where this is most apparent.

That said, this recording is well worth exploring whether you have prior knowledge of the repertoire or not. György Vashegyi and his Purcell Choir & Orfeo Orchestra are an impressive team.