Rameau-a-go-go

Campra
Messe de Requiem
Rameau
Zaïs – Overture
Dardanus – Act IV Entrée des songes / Trio Par un someil agréable / Prologue: Tambourins I/II
Les fêtes d’Hébé – 3ème Entrée: Chorus Suivez les lois / Tambourin en rondeau
Les Boréades – Act IV: Entrée de Polymnie (Polyhymnia) / Air de Polymnie / Gavottes pour les Heures et les Zéphirs
Platée – Air pantomime / Rigaudons I/II / Contredanse en rondeau / Menuets I/II / Musette / Tambourins I/II
Hippolyte et Aricie – Tambourins I/II / 2ème Air des Matelots / Rigaudons en tambourins I/II
Castor et Pollux – Chorus Rentrez dans l’esclavage / Air des démons / Chorus Brisons tous nos fers / Act IV: Air Séjour de l’éternelle paix
Naïs – Chaconne
Les Boréades – Act III: Chorus Jouissons de nos beaux ans / Gavottes I/II / Contredanses

Julia Doyle & Katharine Fuge (sopranos)
Anders Dahlin, Marc Molomot & Nicholas Mulroy (haute-contres)
Lawrence Wallington (bass-baritone)
Matthew Brook (bass) [Campra]

Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble
Dance For All
Compagnie Roussat-Lubek [Rameau]

Monteverdi Choir

English Baroque Soloists
Sir John Eliot Gardiner


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 15 July, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The Proms always springs surprises, and this one made an early bid to be one of the most amazing by welcoming not only one of Britain’s most popular and successful period-instrument combos, but also the first international visitors of the season.

It might, on paper, seem an incongruous match; Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi forces together with young instrumentalists and dancers from South Africa as well as a French dance group, but ultimately the second half of this Prom epitomised, in vibrant terms, what the Proms ideal is all about: the youthfulness of music, of whatever age. In this it was an outstanding triumph.

Two-and-a-half hours earlier the concert had started in much more austere tones, with the second Proms performance of André Campra’s “Messe de “Requiem” (no guesses for who gave the first – Gardiner back in 1977, although at Westminster Cathedral). Restrained yet comforting in tone, Campra omits the ‘Dies irae’ and bathes the listener in a gentle homogenous train of melody that engenders something of a musical trance. As a contrast to what was programmed after the interval, Sir John Eliot could have chosen no better work and, as if you were ever in doubt, one could not reasonably expect a better performance than here, with three haute-contres (Anders Dahlin, Marc Molomot and Nicholas Mulroy) and two sopranos (Julia Doyle and Katharine Fuge), sung from within the choir, taking a large part of the vocal line.

Campra’s subtlety made way for a complete volt-face: a dance selection from no fewer than eight of Rameau’s stage works. He only started writing operas at 50, and in any one bar (ok, one dance) he instilled more rhythm and fun than Campra eked out over 50 minutes. Do Gardiner, his Monteverdis and English Baroque Soloists know how to bounce those rhythms? Of course they do, although for this extended second half we had the luxury of actual dance from two groups.

First however, was the small matter of Rameau’s Overture to “Zaïs”, so shocking in its representation of the four elements arising from primordial chaos that it had to be replaced. Here we got the unadorned original, with its drum rhythm to start and music that gives Haydn a run for his money (over half-a-century later) in the opening to “The Creation”.

Cécile Roussat and Julien Lubek’s Paris-based Compagnie Roussat-Lubek have been concentrating in baroque-style dance. They had worked in Paris with both Sir John Eliot and his players and South Africa’s Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble and Dance for All earlier this year. Although some of the dancing seemed rather knowingly modern, it was certainly witty and non-confrontational with the music.

The French company was dressed in golden frock-coats, nimble of foot and indulged in good-natured humour. It helped that one of them (Roussat herself?) looked like Sue Perkins (from Mel and Sue), who took charge of her Coppélia-like moment as a moving doll to great comic effect. And the introduction of the youngest dancer – perhaps five, or even younger – brought a collective gasp from the audience as he acted something like cupid.

Thus were danced excerpts from “Dardanus”, “Les fêtes d’Hébé” and “Les Boréades”, before attention was diverted to the centre of the Arena. The prommers had been parted like the Red Sea from the beginning of the concert, with just three rows at the very front and the rest behind a cordon that allowed not only space for a small ensemble, but also a dancing area.

This was the placement for the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble and fellow South African Dance for All. Both were formed to encourage and develop young native involvement in music and dance, the 28-strong ensemble, including African drummers in full tribal dress and two who also joined with Dance for All, played excerpts from “Platée” and “Hippolyte et Aricie” with equal verve and skill to the EBS players, who were watching.

Then there was the dancing, usually in single pairs, men then women, first in tribal dress, then tie-dyed colourful splendour, before Stomp-like overalls, tied at the waist, when the group expanded to six. Vibrant, energetic and thrilling to watch, their performance notched up the atmosphere in the hall again. Spare a thought, though for the Prommers, who – for once – probably did not have the best view.

Then Sir John Eliot came back to the podium, with the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble joining the EBS players (including founder of the Buskaid project, Rosemary Nalden, taking her place in the violas). First Dance for All revelled in the first act ‘Chaconne’ from “Naïs”, before Compagnie Roussat-Lubek joined in the extended fun for more dances from “Les Boréades”, together with Anders Dahlin and the Monteverdis singing the effervescent ‘Jouïssons de nos beaux ans’. So much fun, in fact, that the final ‘contredanse’ had to be encored. That buzz is indicative of the best Proms.

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