Familiar Composers in a New Light

* * 1/2 RAMEAU: "La Guirlande"; "Zephyre" Les Arts Florissants; William Christie, conductor Erato

Without the entrancing and witty staging that often accompanies live William Christie productions, these two ballet-operas do tend to come off--in the words of the composer's biographer, Cuthbert Girdlestone--as "Dresden-china Rameau." Hothouse pleasures, to be sure.

There are pluses. The few arias are interesting, the choruses have sparkle, the varied dances often captivate. But stretches of recitative bore, while the plots about shepherds, shepherdesses, nymphs, gods and goddesses prove deadly remote and artificial.

The soloists negotiate Rameau's florid lines easily.

In "La Guirlande" (The Garland), soprano Sophie Daneman, as Zelide, soars through the composer's nature-painting in the aria in which she awaits the return of her lover, Myrtil, sung with gentle ardor by Paul Agnew. Galle Mechaly is a small-voiced Zephyre. Rebecca Ockenden proves a richer sounding Cloris, although she's in the same vocal league. Sophie Decaudaveine is a sweet and generous Diana.

Christie conducts his Les Arts Florissants with the Cappella Coloniensis des WDR with affection and involvement, but this remains a pairing for extending one's knowledge of a composer and his period.

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