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Setting the Orpheus myth presents composers with a daunting challenge: to create music so beautiful audiences can believe it ‘capable of touching the whole empire of the dead’ (to quote from Clérambault’s Orphée). Which might explain why, of the four early 18th-century cantatas on this disc (the others are by Pergolesi, Rameau and Alessandro Scarlatti), only Clérambault’s dares to include the crucial scene where Orpheus’ fabled music persuades Pluto to release Eurydice from the underworld. So it’s fitting that this aria, ‘Monarque redouté’, Orpheus’ key air font lent et font tendre, with its soft, seductive flute, is the disc’s loveliest moment.

While the other cantatas here hardly number among their composers’ best efforts, they do include some attractive arias, notably Pergolesi’s ‘Eurydice, e dove sei?’, which has a lilting Handelian charm, and Scarlatti’s gently melancholic ‘Sordo il tronco’. Soprano Sunhae Im, familiar from her Mozart opera recordings with René Jacobs, has a light, clear voice that can be very appealing, but perhaps lacks the requisite timbral heftto be truly characterful. She doesn’t sound entirely comfortable with Rameau’s declamatory rhetoric, and his Orphée is also diminished by the Akademie’s one-to-a-part instrumentation, which disregards Rameau’s scoring for obbligato ‘flutes et violons’ – ie in the plural and, according to Rameau scholar Graham Sadler, ‘suggesting orchestral performance’ rather than the chamber treatment it receives here.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing