Since forming his historically informed performance (HIP) ensemble, Les Musiciens du Louvre, in the 1980s conductor Marc Minkowski has released a stunning number of excellent recordings, many of which have set the benchmark for performance of 17th- and 18th-century music. Quite naturally, the group has specialized in French composers of le grand siècle, although they have made excellent recordings of Handel operas, too, and recently a few forays into other territory, including Mozart and even Berlioz, Méhul, and Offenbach.
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Rameau, Hippolyte et Aricie, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Véronique Gens, Bernarda Fink, Laurent Naouri, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Ensemble Vocal Sagittarius, Marc Minkowski (first released 1995, re-released September 2006)
The vocal casting is superb, with Jean-Paul Fouchécourt and Véronique Gens in excellent voice as the eponymous lovers. Some of the music is just too good to believe, as in Aricie's opening aria of Act I ("Temple sacré"), which is luscious, gentle, seductive, and harmonically daring. Although some of the minor roles are merely good, Bernarda Fink has a superlative turn as Phèdre, the jealous stepmother (a review of her Sesto with René Jacobs in La Clemenza di Tito is forthcoming), and Laurent Naouri is appropriately solemn as the three gods, Pluton, Neptune, and Jupiter. There are some tracks that could have benefitted from an alternate take, if this were not a live recording. The thunder scene of Diana's anger in Act I, for example, is uneven, with the many runs jumbled by instruments and voices, but the booming percussion and thunder screen makes it thrilling. This set is certainly worth owning, especially since its only competition -- Les Arts Florissants with Mark Padmore and one Lorraine Hunt as Phèdre -- appears to be mostly unavailable in the United States (still carried by Amazon UK). Janet Baker's historic recording is a curiosity worth finding if you can.
Lully, Acis et Galatée, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Véronique Gens, Mireille Delunsch, Howard Crook, Laurent Naouri, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski (first released 1998, re-released September 12, 2006)
Minkowski again shows his musicological connections, with the essay in this booklet by Jérôme de La Gorce (and English translations by Graham Sadler). If you are used to the serious tone of Lully's tragic operas, this work is in a lighter pastoral style, and in it, as La Gorce put it in his essay, Lully rediscovered shortly before his death the comic mode he had when he collaborated with Molière. The role of Polyphemus, sung with appropriate bluster and an odd accent by Naouri, is particularly funny: the Act II entrance of the cyclops is preceded by a heavy-footed march, which Minkowski has punctuated by a silly panpipe signal, almost like a slide whistle. Besides all of its strengths (there are not even any "live recording" glitches to be regretted here), this is the only complete recording of the opera, and it is worth owning.
Rameau, Une symphonie imaginaire, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski (released on June 14, 2005)
Rameau, Les Boréades, Les Arts Florissants
Archiv 445 853-2 / Archiv 453 497-2 / Archiv B0004478-02