Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, November 2, 2015

An inspired pastiche

From October 3, 2015:


In one of my favourite scenes in the 1942 film Holiday Inn Bing Crosby conducts a small orchestra to accompany Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds, each in elaborate 18th century attire, as they start a dance from some imagined version of Versailles. Bing sabotages the show by having his musicians break into jazzy riffs just when the dancers are getting in to the period feel. The two styles juxtaposed are much more interesting than either on its own. The results, besides being very funny, are surprisingly musical.

Until fairly recently we were well in to a period of graceless, static, un-musical stagings of works by the great 17th and 18th century masters, as academics brought complex historically-informed performance practices to bear on the opera and ballet stage. Now, as people let their hair down a bit, we can all loosen up, let the musicians swing, and have some fun. This is obviously happening with everyone involved in this production of one of the great works of the French Baroque, Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes. This remix, whose primary author is Director and Choreographer Laura Scozzi, is anything but subtle. This becomes clear in the Prologue, where nudity plays the same role it did in the 1968 musical Hair: to represent the natural world, honesty and freedom. This is great, dumb, fun. After this good-natured romp, the very attractive principals (who are luckily all excellent singers, and, mainly, fine actors) present four separate tableaux set in various parts of the world. This pastiche of 18th and 21st century world views takes on darker hues as Scozzi teases out surprisingly poignant themes related to the various plights of refugees, the natural world, women and aboriginal peoples, without doing any real damage to Rameau’s, and his librettist’s, original ideas.

Both the anarchic fun and the serious undercurrents are mirrored, and enhanced, by the superb orchestral and choral forces of Les Talens Lyriques marshalled by Christophe Rousset. The music itself brings as much joy and powerful emotions as the funny stage business and ripped-from-the-headlines drama. Bravo Maestros Rousset and Scozzi, and especially Maestro Rameau!

Here is the NSFW "teaser" for the DVD release. Beware of what the YouTube commenter (I know!) calls "shear vulgarity".

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