Rameau: Castor et Pollux

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rameau
LABELS: Auvidis
WORKS: Castor et Pollux
PERFORMER: Christophe Einhorn, Jérôme Corréas, Cyrille Gerstenhaber, Brigitte Vinson; XVIII-21, Musique Des Lumières/Jean-Christophe Frisch
CATALOGUE NO: E 8624
Castor et Pollux was Rameau’s second serious opera or tragédie en musique. It was first performed in 1737, but had to wait until 1754 for its revival. This new recording follows the revival version in which both the score and Pierre-Joseph Bernard’s libretto are markedly different from the earlier form of the piece. Tastes had changed in the intervening years and, by the 1750s, Rameau felt able to dispense with the once obligatory Prologue.In addition, the first act was newly written and the remaining four reworked. The revisions made instant appeal and Castor et Pollux was thereafter increasingly regarded as the composer’s greatest achievement in the sphere of lyric tragedy. As well as giving a different slant on the themes of love and friendship, the revised Castor et Pollux contains some freshly composed dances of vitality and characteristic charm. But it is Spartan Princess Télaïre’s elegiac and meltingly beautiful air, ‘Tristes apprêts, pâles flambeaux’, sung before the funeral pyre of her beloved Castor (Act II) which always steals the show. Soprano Cyrille Gerstenhaber rises to the sombre occasion in this chamber version of the opera, which Rameau seems to have prepared for private use at the same time as the public revival.

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In short, an invigorating performance, though not, ultimately, a satisfying one. The casting is uneven, with a fine Castor but a disappointing Pollux, and the instrumental playing, though idiomatic, often lacks finesse. The live recording is clear, but at times noisy on stage, and sections of the music are too rough-edged for enjoyment. Nicholas Anderson