The ballet’s story is quickly told: Pygmalion, a sculptor, falls in love with one of his own creations. Would-be girlfriend Céphise doesn’t buy it and is jealous. Cupid intervenes and the statue comes to life. The latter is taught how to dance–cue several instrumental courtly and country dances–and everyone lives happily ever thereafter. Except for Céphise, possibly.
Jean-Philippe Rameau is said to have dashed it off in a good week, but you would never know since the whole work suggests nothing but craftsmanship and inspiration. The sarabandes and contredanses have a rustic-rhythmic quality one moment and a spirited and light-footed dancing trait the next. One number after another turns out to be awfully catchy. Cyrille Dubois’ charming light-lyrical and natural tenor delights throughout. It proves to be a familiar voice because it is the same Cyrille Dubois whose “lithe, golden-ringing tenor” was one of “my two happiest surprises-of-the-disc” on Warner’s Strasbourg recording of Les Troyens.
Add the dashing Arnold Schoenberg Chorus (this was recorded at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien), the general swing and flow, the deftly played harpsichord by Stéphane Fuget, and the whole disc simply reveals itself a refreshing, terrific, saftig case of French baroque at its best. A massive bonus is the orchestral suite of Les Fêtes de Polymnie–Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset performs, here as in the ballet, with a wealth of color and virtuosity that is the pinnacle of the post-Historically Informed Performance style: Utterly baroque in its components; utterly romantic in effect. Oh, sweet embraceable Rameau!