Rameau: Dardanus

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rameau
LABELS: Alpha 951
ALBUM TITLE: Rameau: Dardanus
WORKS: Dardanus
PERFORMER: Bernard Richter, Gaëlle Arquez, Benoit Arnould, João Fernandes, Alain Buet, Sabine Devieilhe, Emmanuelle de Negri, Romain Champion; Ensemble Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon
CATALOGUE NO: Alpha 951

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Dardanus is Rameau’s fifth opera and one of his finest. The plot, which is based on Greek legend, is a characteristically tortuous love story often impelled by supernatural interference. A complicating feature is that Dardanus exists in two versions from 1739 and 1744. The second version, widely viewed as dramatically superior with fewer implausible episodes, is the one recorded here by French conductor Raphaël Pichon and his forces.

Both scores have much fine music, but there is a far stronger sense of direction in the second. Of particular note is the orchestral writing including a somberly expressive prelude to the First Act and an arresting toccata introducing the character Ismenor at the start of the Second. Among the opera’s vocal highlights is the expressive monologue for Dardanus that opens Act Four, with bassoon obbligato, sung here with convincing passion by tenor Bernard Richter.

Indeed, Richter is very strong in the title role through much of the score, though most especially in the radiant final two acts. He is well matched by mezzo-soprano Gaëlle Arquez’s Iphise with whom he is united in the final pages of the opera owing to the timely intervention of Venus and Cupid; her lament at the beginning of Act III is particularly affecting. Bass João Fernandes’s performance of the magician Ismenor is suitably menacing, though it is not always dependably tuned.

The Ensemble Pygmalion, a period instrument group founded by Pichon in 2006, clearly relish its orchestral opportunities and the continuo accompaniment is both responsive and stylish. In general Pichon has a convincing grip on the drama; the recorded sound might have been little  more forward, but as a whole this is a most attractive performance of Dardanus.
 

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Jan Smaczny