Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jean-Philippe Rameau - Dardanus – Marc Minkowski, Les Musiciens du Louvre







If there was any composer who could fit music to the special effects called for by the conventions of the French baroque tragédie lyrique, it was Jean-Philippe Rameau (patron saint of the late bloomers, who composed his first operatic masterpiece, Hippolyte et Aricie, at age 50). In the lesser-known Dardanus, Rameau's librettist provided plenty of such opportunities. In fact, he curiously goes beyond the French Age of Reason penchant for Greek myth by inventing his own prehistory for the mythic hero Dardanus (eventual founder of Troy). The story of rival factions, divine interventions, and love triumphing over obstacles political and personal clearly inspired some of Rameau's most adventurous musical evocations (just one example might be the fascinating harmonic language he uses to depict a magician commanding an eclipse). It's this spirit ofJean-Philippe Rameau, by Jacques André Joseph Aved, 1728 daring experiment that Rameau expert Marc Minkowski relishes throughout this magnificent, high-octane, deftly tailored account. He fires the authentic-instrument group Les Musiciens du Louvre into his customary whiplash speeds, which are just perfect for the air of martial excitement that prevails, while the many dance-centered numbers have a muscular grace. The result in general is some of his best work to date on disc, with a special emphasis on the through line of the score. The cast is spectacular--young in demeanor, passionate, and superbly fluent in the idiom. Consider the vocal acting of Véronique Gens as the conflicted heroine Iphise (in love with her father's enemy), with its rich emotional involvement; there's an exciting chemistry between her and the title hero John Mark Ainsley, who gently tapers his vibrato into a beautifully nuanced tenor--now forlorn and outcast, now assertively heroic. Less satisfying is Laurent Naouri's inconsistently projected lower range as the antihero Anténor. The chorus has been beautifully prepared. For this recording, Minkowski uses Rameau's original 1739 version, with some interpolations of especially compelling material from the slimmed-down 1744 revision. --Thomas May

Performer: Veronique Gens, John Mark Ainsley, Laurent Naouri, Jean-Philippe Courtis, Magdalena Kozena, et al.
Orchestra: Les Musiciens du Louvre
Conductor: Marc Minkowski


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