Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) was one of France’s great early composers of operatic and choral music, but he never actually wrote anything specifically for the orchestra alone. Maestro Marc Minkowski has attempted to make up for this oversight on the part of the composer by putting together an “Imaginary Symphony” (Une Symphonie Imaginaire), a purely instrumental montage or pastiche made up of bits and pieces of Rameau’s orchestral music interludes, overtures, and ballets. Although the result doesn’t quite gel, it’s a fascinating overview of the composer’s style.
The “Symphony” borrows from things like Castor et Pollux, Les Fetes d’Hebe, Dardanus, Le Temple de la Gloire, Les Boreades, La Naissance d’Osiris, Hippolyte & Arcie, Nais, and others. And it begins with an overture from Zais that features a wonderful percussion element that will have your subwoofer woofing on end. I wish I could say the whole enterprise pleased me more, but I found it slightly and understandably disjointed, like a best-of hodgepodge of Baroque favorites. At the same time, it’s hard to deny the genius of Rameau, and the music makes enjoyable easy listening.
Further supporting the pleasure of the music is the enlivening presentation by Marc Minkowski and his Les Musiciens du Louvre. The conductor clearly enjoys this music and offers it up in often brilliant, sometimes refined, occasionally beautiful fashion.
While I don’t usually care for live recordings, Archiv did this one several years ago with a relatively small group of period musicians miked fairly close up, giving a better sense of intimacy as well as definition to the proceedings. What’s more, I didn’t notice the audience once. Insofar as concerns the actual sound, it’s fine, if a trifle soft around the edges and somewhat limited in dimensionality.