OPERA NEWS - MusicAeterna and Teodor Currentzis: “RAMEAU: The Sound of Light”
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MusicAeterna and Teodor Currentzis: “RAMEAU: The Sound of Light”

spacer With Koutcher; Svetlov.Texts and translations. Sony 88875014502

Recordings Rameau MusicaAeterna Cover 815

Conductor Teodor Currentzis brings his irrepressible style to a Rameau potpourri, with variable results. Purely instrumental numbers can be recommended for rhythmic vitality and variety, as well as the carefully wrought balance, transparency and brightness of the recorded sound. MusicAeterna’s period instruments seem unusually focused and nimble. From Les Indes Galantes, we hear a richly realized “Danse” and the more plaintive “Air pour les Esclaves Africains,” with its contrasting rhythms and, in the sliding upstrokes near the end, an exotic flavoring. Long, insistent crescendos enliven “Tambourins,” from Dardanus.

Vocal music unleashes what I’d call some demons, leading to hyperinterpretive efforts that employ nonvocal, amusical means. Currentzis previews this manner in a quasivocal piece, “La Poule” (The Hen). Originally a keyboard solo, it is heard here in a comical, raucous arrangement for four instruments. A whining, guttural clarinet tone impersonates the hen’s clucking sounds (more generalized in the original) with keen realism. It’s a trick that relies on the intrusion of graphic nonmusical sound effects — a bit like a comedian’s vocal impressions of a celebrity.

Something similar infiltrates the singing of the two major arias on the disc, which are among Rameau’s best-known. When it comes to the character of La Folie, in his Platée, singers and conductors invariably go to lengths to make Folly sound dictatorial and quite crazy. But soprano Nadine Koutcher, who shows traits of brilliance in that character’s showy aria “Essayons du brillant,” is even more diverse and extreme, impersonating a series of symptoms or mechanical malfunctions. In the lower register she seems in fact to mimic the chicken imitation in “La Poule” — or possibly a frog, a timbre sometimes adopted by singers performing the title role in this opera. Her top notes go to another extreme, reduced to chains of tiny electronic bleeps.

The other significant piece is the doleful “Tristes Apprêts,” from Castor et Pollux,which surely has never been performed so slowly and faintly — or so rigidly — as under Currentzis’s excruciating baton. Koutcher’s timbre is so reduced, blanched and drained, so wounded, as to sound almost nonhuman — or (in the singer’s recessive middle range) untrained. As in the Currentzis full-length Nozze diFigaro,sensitivity is telegraphed by a near-absence of tone, almost a vocal shutdown. Altogether, the Currentzis manner is never less than provocative and quite often disconcerting. spacer

DAVID J. BAKER

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