RAMEAU Symphonie imaginaire / Minkowski


Une symphonie imaginaire
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski
Int. Release 02 May. 2005
1 CD / Download
0289 474 5142 6
ARCHIV Produktion
The musical universe of Rameau captured in an entirely new programme concept by one of the most popular interpreters of French Baroque music

Track List

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 - 1764)


Castor et Pollux, RCT 32


Les fêtes d'Hébé

Act 2


Dardanus, RCT 35


Le temple de la gloire

Les Boréades

Act 1


La Naissance d'Osiris


Les Boréades

Act 4

Platée, ou Junon jalouse, RCT 53


Les Boréades

Act 5


6 Concerts transcrits en sextuor

6e concert


Les fêtes d'Hébé

Act 3

Hippolyte et Aricie

Act 3





Les Indes galantes, RCT 44

Act 9

Les Boréades

Act 4

Les Indes galantes, RCT 44

Act 9


Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski

Total Playing Time 56:25

What a splendid idea of Marc Minkowski's it was, therefore, to take some of the most strikingly inventive and descriptive orchestral music from Rameau's ballets and operas . . . and present it in the form of an hour-long 'symphonie imaginaire'. Recorded live at the Théâtre de Poissy in June 2003, in engagingly atmospheric and uncommonly well-balanced SACD surround sound, with Les Musiciens de Louvre on sparkling form . . . the result is something of a tour de force of exuberant creative imagination and period-instrument virtuosity . . . alll brought vividly to life by this engrossingly imaginative and dramatically compelling performance. Highly recommended.

Mr. Minkowski has selected several of the choicest items to anchor his fantastical symphony. For all its kid-in-the-candy-store pleasures, this particular juxtaposition is not without revelations. So colorful is Rameau's music that you tend to think of him as a master of orchestration. And to a considerable extent he is . . . But great orchestration also involves restraint, and it is remarkable to hear Rameau, time after time, achieve his most striking effects merely with strings and supporting woodwinds. . . . So forget any notion of a grand symphony. Who needs it? Just revel in some of Rameau's most
piquant and picturesque music, superbly rendered by Mr. Minkowski and his virtuosic band.

Rameau¿s theatrical leanings are everywhere in evidence . . . Minkowski¿s band responds with crisp execution and audible glee . . . Effectively, this is freebase Rameau, an already powerful substance shorn of social contexts and boiled down to its most potent essence. And yes, it¿s dangerously addictive.

It's a tasty ragout . . . There's genuine musical cleverness here.

. . . a ravishing, hour-long aural extravaganza . . . Minkowski . . . conducts a French ensemble that one would think is the Vienna Philharmonic for the sheer beauty, stylishness and heft with which the players wield their Baroque instruments. And the range of color, tune and rhythm in these scores is kaleidoscopic. The funeral music from "Castor et Pollux" is a ghostly dreamscape; the brilliant "Tambourin" from "Dardanus" leaves your head spinning.


Rameau: Une Symphonie Imaginaire . . . This greatest composer of the French baroque wrote no symphonies as such, but his operas were full of astoundingly imaginative orchestral interludes. Those who have never heard the composer will find the colorful orchestral writing particularly enveloping on SACD.

. . . Minkowski has had the excellent idea of assembling a pot-pourri of choice numbers from a dozen different works . . . this is an hour-long suite of 17 dance and programmatic movements, ear-ticklingly scored, ranging from a gentle Musette to the mother of all storms. The playing reflects all the tenderness and vigour of the music.

If you love Rameau's instrumental music, you will want this disc. It's really marvelous . . . Marc Minkowski has assembled 17 selections in all into an "imaginary symphony", carefully balanced in terms of tempo, mood, and expressive contrast. Given his success to date with Rameau's operas, we should expect the performances to be outstanding, and so they are . . . Simply grand!

Marc Minkowski and his Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble . . . pay vibrant homage to Rameau's brillant powers of orchestration . . . The album contains some of the composer's best instrumental writing . . . Minkowski takes the listener on a thrilling and contrast-filled journey through his selection of more or less well-known passages from Rameaus's "tragédies" and "opéra-ballets". He is accompanied by his colourful orchestra, which is sometimes ethereal, sometimes tempestuous. There is not a single dull moment in the programme, which holds the listener breathless right up to the last track . . . This recording plays an indispensable role in adding to an appreciation of Rameau's orchestral music.

Minkowski's excerpts are shrewdly chosen, combining some of the most theatrically arresting music . . . with rhythmically lively dances, and graceful airs whose content remains long after the music has finished. The conductor . . . has matured over the years into a performer who seldom if ever sacrifices focus and dramatic effect for energy. The pacing of the pieces is varied, their acccenting and performance, incisive. Although the sound is crisp and well defined in stereo mode, this SACD delivers a more impressive experience in surround sound. The pungent playing and vivid instrumental coloration are exceptionally well caught . . . That said, for the music, the performances, and the engineering, an enthusiastic recommendation. (Barry Brensal)

Anyone . . . that comes across this disc is likely to be very thrilled . . . the sound is superb, and I don't think I've ever heard the distinctive sound of Rameau's orchestra so vividly reproduced. The same goes for the full-blooded orchestral playing, which throughout is quite magnificent. One is so used to Rameau's operas played with an orchestra far smaller than the size of the forces available at the Paris Opéra that it is a real treat to hear it played by a large body of strings (32 in all). The results . . . knock the listener off his metaphorical feet, particularly given the extremely wide dynamic range . . . This is big, bold, even brash, Rameau-playing . . . (Brian Robins)

Mark Minkowski and his Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble pay vibrant homage to Rameau's brilliant powers of orchestration . . . the album contains some of the composer's best instrumental writing . . . Minkowski takes the listener on a thrilling and contrast-filled journey through his selection of more or less well-known passages from Rameau's tragédies and opéra-ballets. He is accompanied by his colourful orchestra, which is sometimes ethereal, sometimes tempestuous. There is not a single dull moment in the programme, which holds the listener breathless right up to the last track . . . This recording plays an indispensable role in adding to an appreciation of Rameau's orchestral music.

Auch mit seinem 1982 in Paris gegründeten, heute in Grenoble ansässigen, hoch renommierten Ensemble Les Musiciens du Louvre hat Marc Minkowski nicht nur Opern von Händel oder des französischen Barock bis herauf zu Gluck interpretiert, sondern bereits etliche bemerkenswerte Ausflüge zu Jacques Offenbach gemacht . . . Seine Live-Präsenz zeichnet sich oft durch feuriges, tänzerisches "Draufgängertum" aus . . . Der hinreißend spritzig musizierte Parcours beginnt effektvoll mit der Ouvertüre aus "Zais" . . . Über "Scènes funebres, Airs, Rondeaus, Tambourins" und vielem weiteren Stürmischen als auch Pastoralen fehlt dann auch das verdächtig nach Strawinsky klingende "Prélude" aus dem fünften Akt von "Les Boréades" nicht. Und mit der berühmten "Chaconne" aus der Opéra-ballet "Les Indes" endet die Super-Symphonie, bei der das berühmte Ensemble unter Minkowski faszinierend die Muskeln spielen läßt.

Insgesamt 17 Instrumentalnummern aus Rameaus Opern haben Marc Minkowski und seine phänomenalen Grenobler "Musiciens du Louvre" zu einer imaginären Sinfonie gefügt: Ihr zu lauschen, ist ein wunderbares Vergnügen. Hier zucken die Blitze und donnert's aus schwarzen Wolken, da gackert ein Huhn, klagt eine einsame Hirtenflöte. Und auf Schritt und Tritt ist jener federnde Impetus zu spüren, mit dem Minkowski seine Musikerinnen und Musiker durch die Partituren zu jagen pflegt. Dass dabei auch die pastoralen Stimmungen zu ihrem vollen Recht kommen, die "Airs tendres" in duftigen, zarten Farben ausgeleuchtet sind, gehört zu den besonderen Qualitäten dieser Aufnahme.

Die Überraschung. Allein schon die Klangfarbenvielfalt und der instrumentale Erfindungsreichtum dieser Musik, ihre immense emotionale Bandbreite und ihr beredter Ausdrucksreichtum faszinieren vom allerersten Ton an. Marc Minkowski und die hervorragend disponierten Musiciens du Louvre bringen nicht zuletzt auch den gestischen Reichtum dieser Musik zu voller Blüte und zeichnen die tonmalerischen Momentaufnahmen (etwa in der erschütternden Grabszene aus "Castor und Pollux") mit viruoser Eleganz und Delikatesse. Zum Schluss bleibt schieres Staunen über den unbegreiflichen Reichtum dieser Musik.

Der mit Rameaus musikalischer Welt und seinen unterschätzten Bühnenwerken bestens vertraute Pariser Originalklang-Crack Marc Minkowski hat jetzt dem "verkappten" Symphoniker Rameau ein ungewöhnliches Denkmal gesetzt . . . "Les Musiciens du Louvre", Minkowskis exzellentes Barockorchester mit Sitz in Grenoble, unterstützt die postume Würdigung mit fünfzigköpfiger Gala-Besetzung und einer erstaunlichen Vielfalt unterschiedlichster Klangfarbenmixturen, die die unerschöpfliche und unverwechselbare instrumentale Phantasie Rameaus wiederaufleben lassen . . . Mit diesem intelligenten Rameau-Sampler hat Minkowski den angestaubten Theoretiker glänzend rehalbilitiert und ihm einen Platz in der ersten Reihe der ganz großen Barockmeister gesichert -- neben Bach, Händel und Vivaldi.

Was dieser rätselhaften Komponistennatur so aus der Feder floss, naturhafte Schilderungen, duftige Stimmungen oder gar Düsteres wie die "Scene funèbre" aus "Castor et Pollux": Es bereitet einfach Vergnügen, sich auf diesen für uns immer noch ein wenig fremd, aber umso kühner erscheinenden französischen Meister des Barocks rückzubesinnen und dem funkensprühenden Spiel der Grenobler "Musiciens du Louvre" zu lauschen.

. . . les jardins secrets de Marc Minkowski : un exercice de style jouant sur le premier degré, généreux, parfois séduisant . . .

. . . tout le talent pictural de Rameau jaillit . . . un juste Hommag dû à Rameau, comme aux Minkowski.

Ce SACD multicanal déploie une mise en scène sonore destinée à nous en mettre "plein la vue", ou plutôt l'ouie, et à nous démontrer que notre génial Rameau avait tout inventé de l'orchestration moderne, bien avant Haydn, Beethoven et Berlioz. D'où cette esthétique on ne peut plus spectaculaire, avec un aigu ciselé et tranchant, un grave immense, des percussions menacantes, et surtout un ensemble baroque qui sonne avec l'ampleur et l'opulence du Philharmonique de Berlin, l'acidité propre aux violons joués à l'ancienne mis à part !

. . . una obra fascinante, en la que los diecisiete números seleccionados se cohesionan perfectamente, interpretados con una frescura deliciosa por los instrumentos de época de Les Musiciens. Por su parte, Minkowski carga las tintas en los "allegros", enfatízándolos respecto a su contexto original, mientras que en los tiempos lentos nos descubre la faceta más visionaria del compositor, a través de una profusa gama de matices en los que se atisban hallazgos de épocas futuras de la música.

Un estilo hecho de tiempos rápidos y energía, el diseño elegido favorece dinámicas extremas y efectos alucinados. Buenas dosis de vitalidad, y ocasionales decaimientos de la tensión conforman en definitiva un ensayo seductor.

... Minkowski, que todo lo suele hacer bien, porque es un músico con mayúsculas ... Les Musiciens du Louvre ... demuestra con esta nueva grabación por qué es aclamada como una de las mejores orquestas del mundo. Es sonido que sale de los instrumentos de esta buena gente de Grenoble es casi milagroso. ... Este derroche de ritmo y luminosidad que es Une symphonie imaginaire lo consigue desde el primer momento y no sólo entre los amantes del barroco francés, que son legión, sino entre los seres animados a los que la Naturaleza ha dotado de oído y de buen gusto.
Rameau: The Master of the Orchestra

Rameau had already turned fifty when his first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, was staged in 1733. If he wrote the bulk of his output at an advanced age, abandoning cantatas, motets and harpsichord works for the stage, it was because he had reflected on the matter - in his own words, he was "enlightened by Descartes's method, which I was fortunate enough to have read and by which I had been deeply struck". But a man who begins his true artistic career at so late a date is necessarily attached to the style of his youth in terms of his taste, habits and thinking. And this is certainly true of Rameau. Yet the opposite is also true, precisely because he had reflected for so long on music from a theoretical point of view, reflections that gave rise in particular to his Traité d'harmonie. His genius is bound up with this independence, which he owed to the fact that he was not attached to his time: both traditionalistic and avant-garde, he was extraordinarily innovative, his originality achieved in unexpected ways.

Nowhere is this paradox more apparent than in the way in which he used the orchestra, which is why the present recording, by bringing together some of his most beautiful orchestral pieces, is so exemplary in character. It is not that Rameau did not also revolutionize singing, but that his orchestral language provides us with such striking proof of his astonishing achievements in terms of a style that is rich, eloquent and, above all, expressive.

Rameau does not abandon the overall structure that Lully devised for the tragédie lyrique and that was later developed by Marin Marais, Campra and Destouches. He includes all the key elements pioneered by his predecessors, starting with the overture and passing through all the obligatory scenes: tempête, sommeil, a scene in the underworld, the air tendre and the danced divertissement. Yet although there is nothing original here, these conventional scenes acquire utter perfection in his hands thanks to the aptness and precision of his writing.

There had been tempêtes aplenty in earlier operas, beginning with Marin Marais, but Rameau responds with the most devastating storm of all in Platée. In much the same way, the state of chaos associated with the beginning of the world was a conventional theme already brilliantly exploited by Destouches in Les Éléments, but Rameau's depiction of primordial chaos at the start of Zaïs is the ne plus ultra of such scenes. Why? Because the composer succeeds in achieving a state of perfect congruity between an anecdotal episode intended to be staged, his own theoretical conception of music and an entirely new sensitivity to orchestral sonorities. In using music to depict harmony emerging from initial disorder, Rameau seems to be offering us a concrete example of his conception of music. The disordered scraps of fragmentary phrases that we hear at the outset are progressively replaced by harmonies, consonance, tonality, formal structure and tempo, as if the composer were guiding us by the hand. The world takes shape as the music shapes our listening. This emergence from chaos seems to us to represent a musical application of the title that Rameau gave to the most theoretical of his treatises, La Génération harmonique.

There is no doubt that Rameau's ultimate secret lies in his ability to combine the rigour of abstract thought with an auditory sensuality that allows him to find an exact correspondence in the orchestra: the sound fleshes out the thought, but the thought lends precision to the impact of that sound. This results in an astonishing economy of means. In an air tendre in Les Fêtes d'Hébé, for example, the flute seems to emerge from the sound mass of the strings as naturally as Eve emerged from Adam's body in the scriptures, creating a dialogue in which the flute sings, while the strings undulate gently beneath it like waves. And the dialogue becomes pure poetry.

Although the use of wind instruments in French opera was still limited by certain conventions, Rameau, when compared with his predecessors, reveals an extraordinary ability to exploit the element of colour, using "pure colour" as an Impressionist might have done in the 19th-century world of academic painting. Perhaps his most original contribution in this respect is his use of the bassoon, an instrument that until then had never been treated autonomously: it doubled the basses or provided support for the oboes. Rameau seized on the instrument's colour, allowing it to enter into dialogue with the strings and contrasting its warm hues with the delicate liquid gold of the violins in numerous pieces, the finest of which is undoubtedly the "Entrée de Polymnie" in Act Four of Les Boréades.

If Rameau's symphonic virtuosity triumphs in picturesque scenes such as tempêtes and volcanic eruptions, he gives traditional dance forms a no less astonishing power, whether it be the Tambourin in Dardanus or the "Danse des Sauvages" in Les Indes galantes. He exploits a power which, to quote Racine, sometimes consists in "making something out of nothing": setting out from the cackling of the hen in La Poule, he writes an increasingly elaborate invention on five notes and an arpeggio, much as Ravel was later to do with the theme of his Boléro, culminating in both cases in a veritable apotheosis.

"As a writer of operatic symphonies, Rameau never had a model or a rival," wrote Michel-Guy de Chabanon, who was by no means alone in praising the composer. At the height of Romanticism, when all music dating from the period before Gluck had sunk without trace into the bottomless pit of oblivion, Berlioz described Rameau's art as "one of the most sublime conceptions of dramatic music". In 1903 Castor et Pollux was the first great French opera of the earlier period to be accorded the honour of a concert performance at the Schola Cantorum - or at least the first two acts were given, inspiring a detailed review from Debussy in the columns of Gil Blas: "Gluck's genius was deeply rooted in Rameau's works. Castor et Pollux contains in embryo the initial sketches for much that Gluck was to develop later on; a detailed comparison allows us to affirm that Gluck could replace Rameau on the French stage only by assimilating the latter's beautiful works and making them his own." And, if we may believe the legend, Debussy even went so far as to exclaim: "Long live Rameau, down with Gluck!"

Philippe Beaussant

An Imaginary Symphony

In his Éloge de M. Rameau, published in 1764 only weeks after the composer’s death, Michel-Guy de Chabanon voiced the widely-held view that ”as a writer of operatic symphonies, Rameau never had a model or a rival”. If no one today would still question the claim that Rameau was the greatest orchestral genius in France before Berlioz, no one questioned it in the composer’s lifetime either. Even his enemies admired the "symphoniste" without reservation. Thus we find the implacable Charles Collé paying him a back-handed compliment: ”He wanted to write music and to this end put everything into ballets, dances and violin airs” – and he did so, moreover, at the expense of the ”scenes” which, according to Collé, helped to define opera.

But for some reason Rameau never wrote for the orchestra alone. Towards 1750, audiences at the Concert Spirituel at the Tuileries witnessed the birth of the French symphonie at the hands of Blainville, Rousseau, Martin, Plessis and Gossec. We ourselves have often performed the Divertissements de symphonies by Louis-Gabriel Guillemain and have recorded Mondonville’s six Sonates en symphonies, the first fruits of a genre that triumphed in Paris during Rameau’s lifetime and, indeed, under his very nose. But the true genius of the orchestra left no such works of his own. His whole art is contained, rather, within the overtures and ballets in the works that he wrote for the stage.

It was, therefore, in his operas and one-act ballets that we began our search for material for the Rameau Gala that we gave at the Châtelet in 2002 to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Musiciens du Louvre and was made up of both vocal and orchestral works. But this was not enough. Although we owe some of our greatest pleasures and happiest hours to the five great operas Hippolyte et Aricie, Dardanus, Anacréon, Platée and Les Boréades, we still sorely missed the symphonie that Rameau never wrote. And so we created it ourselves.

We began with the dizzying overture to the pastoral Zaïs, a short symphonic poem that describes the origin of the world. And we followed this with various dances, interludes and divertissements taken from the most disparate works, adding to them the harrowing ”funerary landscape” from Castor et Pollux, the almost Stravinskian introduction to the final act of Les Boréades (in both cases we simply removed the vocal line) and a new orchestration of La Poule, the harpsichord piece that Rameau himself had already instrumented for his Pièces de clavecin en concerts. In doing this, we were not aiming to usurp the composer but were attempting to pay tribute to one of the greatest masters of the orchestra ever to have walked this earth and to share with others the pleasure that it gave us to prepare it.
Marc Minkowski

Critical Acclaim on Marc Minkowski Conducting His Rameau Suite Une Symphonie imaginaire
(Initially Entitled L'Apothéose de la danse)

Wednesday's late-night Prom gave us the whole expressive gamut of Baroque music: fervent piety in Bach, human passion in Handel, and Rameau's irresistible dance rhythms. Dance is the common thread between them, a fact Marc Minkowski, director of the French group Les Musiciens du Louvre, is keenly aware of ... There was no puzzling, religious world-view to get in the way of a suite of Rameau's most delectable dances compiled by Minkowski. Here you could just enjoy the parade of colours and rhythms, played with amazing vividness and sparkling virtuosity. But Minkowski captures the romanticism of the music too. He lingered over the ornaments, and teased out inner parts, creating a suggestive veiled quality like the dim light you get in Watteau's paintings.
The Daily Telegraph (London), 12 September 2003

The stage was now filled with the handsome young Musiciens du Louvre and their highly talented big cuddly bear of a conductor, Marc Minkowski, who proceeded to delight all with the UK premiere of his Jean-Philippe Rameau medley "L'Apothéose de la danse". The orchestra played this compilation with such warmth, intensity and vigour that you could have run out and bought "Now That's What I Call Relatively Obscure 18th-Century French Opera" there and then.
The Times (London), 12 September 2003

Mastery of phrasing is central to Marc Minkowski's success in Baroque repertoire... L'"Apothéose de la danse"... demonstrated the extent to which this music comes alive in the right hands. Movements like the explosively pictorial Orage from Platée went some way to recreate the sense of shock felt by 18th-century audiences, accustomed to the classical proprieties of Lully.
Standard (London), 11 September 2003

The way in which the Musiciens du Louvre under Marc Minkowski played the eighteen movements of Rameau's orchestral suite "L'Apothéose de la danse" was breathtaking ... It was only to be expected that these dances would be put together on the principle of the greatest possible variety, but Minkowski and his players brought to life dramatic scenes whose varied impact was almost physically palpable. In the tempestuous movements the bows of the string instruments leapt up from the strings, and the piccolo's scalar passages flashed past with incredible speed. Each time you thought that it was impossible for the musicians to play any louder, Minkowski demanded an increase - and he got it. In the quieter movements the instruments sang with all the tenderness of a human voice, finally dying away into nothing after passing through a series of piano markings of unprecedentedly subtle gradations.
Concerto (Cologne), November 2003