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Briefly Noted: 'Pyrrhus'

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P. Royer, Pyrrhus, G. Laurens, E. De Negri, A. Buet, J. Thompson, Les Enfants d'Apollon, M. Greenberg, L. G. Crawford

(released on March 25, 2014)
Alpha 953 | 145'20"
My introduction to the music of Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer (1705-1755) was his keyboard music, recorded by Christophe Rousset. Of Royer's vocal music, I had heard only a single example, recorded by Véronique Gens, from which there was a favorable impression. This recording of Royer's Pyrrhus, a tragédie lyrique premiered at the Académie Royale de Musique in Paris in 1730, shows that the composer's operas are worth rediscovering, even though this particular one, early in Royer's career, was a critical and audience failure. In his booklet essay, the conductor of this new recording, Michael Greenberg, asserts that Pyrrhus was one of 21 operas produced in Paris on tales from the aftermath of the Trojan War. Pyrrhus is another name for the son of Achilles, to whom the ghost of Achilles appeared, demanding that the Greeks sacrifice Polyxena, the daughter of the King of Troy. It was to Polyxena that Achilles had confided the only vulnerable place on his body, his heel. As the story had been transformed in France, by the playwright Corneille and others, Polyxena and Pyrrhus became lovers, as they are in this version. Although no complete autograph score for Pyrrhus survives, the work was recovered from extant parts and other sources by researchers at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, and recorded in 2012 in the Salle des Croisades at the Château de Versailles. Greenberg's ensemble, Les Enfants d'Apollon, provides a fine if not outstanding performance, with the intonation not always true in the chorus. Not all of the solo voices are the best either, but Emmanuelle De Negri makes a lovely Polyxène.

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