Album Title: Andre Ernest Modeste Gretry: Andromaque
Performer: Herve Niquet et le Concert Spirituel
Label: Glossa GES 921620-F (book + 2CDs, limited edition, 2800 numbered copies)
Recorded: Palais des Beaux Arts de Bruxelles, October 2009

After Artaxerxes released by Linn records, here comes my second operatic discovery of early 2011, Gretry's Andromaque after Jean Racine's play. Music director of the Concert Spirituel Herve Niquet seems to have made it his mission to unearth and record long lost operas of the baroque and classical eras where Andromaque is just the latest release in this ongoing effort. Gretry—long-time competitor of Gluck in Paris—was better known and appreciated for his lighter comic operas but what I find fascinating about his work is that in over more than fifty compositions it documents the transformation from Rameau to French Romanticism.

As it stands Andromaque (~1780) actually sits rather in the middle of this continuum, with far less inherited from Rameau or Charpentier than say Cephale et Procris (1773) but without the more fully developed opera comique flavor of Richard Coeur de Lion (1784) or Pierre le grand (1790). Actually Andromaque's style is closer to Gluck's than anything else Gretry ever composed. This is not surprising when one realizes how the work was commissioned in the heat of their rivalry where the graver topic of the play did not quite allow Gretry to fully embrace his usual composition style to translate as a cooler than usual reception in Paris.

Andromaque is certainly not the place to start to discover Gretry. Richard Coeur de Lion or La Caravane du Caire are far more representative of what made him famous in his time and also far easier to enjoy. If one wants to explore graver styles and compositions, then Gluck is probably the place to start. That said and although atypical for this composer, Andromaque is a very enjoyable opera that runs short of ninety minutes and therefore is mostly made up of short and emotive arias. What kept surprising me was just how diverse the influences were I could identify in the score - undoubtedly Rameau and Charpentier in the fast-paced recitatives, Gluck in the inventive orchestration but also emotional paintings clearly announcing what was to come decades later in the French Romanticism. I don't know that I would go as far as calling Andromaque a cornerstone in Gretry's work but at times it feels like one.

Herve Niquet and the Concert Spirituel are as comfortable with Gretry's work as they are with his predecessors. The quartet of soloists is fully at ease with Gretry's style to result in a truly entertaining recording that provides a fabulous insight into this long forgotten work.