Rameau: Dardanus

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Dardanus
PERFORMER: John Mark Ainsley, Véronique Gens, Laurent Naouri, Mireille Delunsch; Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
CATALOGUE NO: 463 476-2
Dardanus was the composer’s third ‘tragédie-lyrique’, whose premiere was given at the Paris Opéra in December 1739. Since then, it has had a chequered career, for which the librettist Le Clerc de la Bruère probably deserves most of the blame. In 1744 it was revived in a drastically reworked form but, as Graham Sadler remarks in his excellent introduction to this release, only in 1760 was Rameau’s masterly achievement more fully understood.


An earlier recording of Dardanus by Raymond Leppard (Erato) offered an unsatisfying compromise between the 1739 and 1744 versions, omitting much fine music. In this recording, by contrast, Marc Minkowski essentially follows Rameau’s 1739 score, introducing only a single very moving prison scene (Act IV, Scene 1) and an orchestral ‘Bruit de guerre’ from the composer’s 1744 version. There are in addition a few small cuts, and a larger one omitting a scene in Act II. From among a mainly well-chosen cast, soprano Véronique Gens (Iphise) – her celebrated air ‘O jour affreux!’ is affecting – and Laurent Naouri (Anténor) stand out for their fine tone and fluent mastery of French vocal idioms. But there are strong performances, too, by soprano Magdalena Kožená, tenor John Mark Ainsley in the title role and bass Russell Smythe. The choir and instrumentalists of Les Musiciens du Louvre provide supple and athletic contributions, the players coming into their own in the wonderfully inventive dances which reach a Ramellian peak in the elegiacally sustained concluding Chaconne. A splendid achievement and a richly rewarding score, which fills a hitherto gaping void in the Rameau discography. Nicholas Anderson