Rameau had the somewhat dubious fortune (in his own time, at least) to be such a powerful creative personality in the field of orchestral music that the quality of his dances sometimes overwhelms the operatic context in which he places them. From our point of view today, this hardly seems a liability, especially when it permits the performance of marvelous orchestral suites such as this from his various theatrical productions. Les Indes galantes (1735) contains some wonderful dance music, scored with the composer's usual imaginative flair.
The Baroque music ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, under Christophe Rousset's baton, performs Rameau's Les Indes galantes at the Opéra National de Bordeaux in a sensual and politically engaged production directed by Laura Scozzi, on the occasion of the festivities organized to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Jean-Philippe Rameau's death.
For musicians of today, Rameau is often associated with the study of music theory.а His Traitщ de l'harmonie (1722) was incredibly influential Ч and controversial Ч in its new conception of the triad as an invertible entity.а While his critics often cited his theoretical background as making him unfit for composition, his considerable success as a composer of keyboard music and, later, opera called this accusation into question.
After a rather uninspired prologue as opening section according to Lully's five-part tradition, Rameau's ballet opera offers four different stories, each set in a different exotic locale. We get some idea of how Frenchmen conceived of the non-European world in the 1730s. The first story, "The Noble Turk," falls in line with Montesquieu's Persian Letters (1721) by suggesting that good character is more important than religious differences. This theme, alien to my own viewpoint and synonymous with the Enlightenment, led to an ideal of the Brotherhood of Man that dominated idealistic thinking for two centuries to come. The most remarkable of the four stories is the second, set in Peru at the time of the Spanish Conquest of the 1530s… By John D. Pilkey
Christophe Rousset's collection of overtures to 17 of Rameau's operas and opéra-ballets, played by his original instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, won a 1998 Gramophone award for best Baroque non-vocal CD, and it's easy to hear why this outstanding performance was recognized. The ensemble plays with unflagging liveliness and brilliant, clean tone. The rhythmic vitality Rousset coaxes from his players is toe-tappingly engaging; at the same time, he maintains a fluidity that avoids metronomic rigidity. The tempos he takes sometimes have a breathtaking fleetness that leaves the listener marveling at the players' virtuosity. The overtures are mostly brief, usually four or five minutes long, but they each contain a world of volatility and drama. Many of them are wonderfully eccentric, with startling juxtapositions and exotic orchestral combinations that keep them from ever settling into any kind of easy predictability.