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Les Fêtes de Polymnie, first performed in Paris in October 1745, marked Rameau’s initial collaboration with the poet Louis de Cahusac, who would provide librettos for several of his later works, including Les Fétes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour and Zoroastre. The adulatory Prologue acclaims Louis XV’s victory at the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745, although the subsequent three entrées, each depicting the union of a loving couple, suggest this ballet héroïque might initially have been intended to celebrate the Dauphin’s wedding to the Spanish Infanta the previous February. The mood is festive throughout, helped by numerous ballets, choruses and spectacular tableaux, from the raising of a gold statue of Louis XV in the Prologue to the ‘vile frenzy’ of a raucous hunting party in the final entrée. Rameau orchestrates it all with characteristic élan: his use of winds and brass in particular shows marvellous imagination, and the music is, by turns, delicate and sumptuous, exhilarating and seductive.

The team of first-class soloists here includes sopranos Véronique Gens, Emöke Baráth and Aurélia Legay, baritone Thomas Dolié and the ardent haute-contre Mathias Vidal. The Orfeo Orchestra and Purcell Choir are based in Budapest (though the familiar name of Simon Standage appears as concertmaster), yet they sound completely au fait with the etiquettes of French baroque music. Magnifique!

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing