Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is the 1754 revision of Rameau's 1737 masterpiece. The earlier version was coolly received as a result of the Lulliste-Ramiste battles that were waged at that time (Rameau was the new opera composer in town and, in subject matter and harmonies, was breaking with tradition). The revised version slims down the original: the allegorical prologue is gone; Castor and Pollux no longer compete for the same woman (Telaire); the first act is new, and the rest of the action is tightened, with some new music added. Whichever version you hear is good enough--it's a beautiful, moving work--and this set complements William Christie's performance of the 1737 original on Harmonia Mundi.
The most beautiful performance here comes from Monica Whicher as Telaire. Everything she sings is filled with meaning, her tone is lovely, and in her big aria, "Tristes apprets", she scales her voice down with great expressivity at key points. And the bassoon that plays obbligato around her is as mournful as her words and sound. Colin Ainsworth is an excellent Castor, his high tenor never quite entering falsetto but nevertheless exhibiting a mastery of voix-mixte. Contrasting nicely with him is the baritone Pollux of Joshua Hopkins, dark and throbbing, with a fine ear for natural French phrasing. Meredith Hall sings Phébé and Hébé with passion and celestial beauty, respectively.
While Kevin Mallon's leadership and the singing and playing of his Opera in Concert chorus and Aradia Ensemble are expert, as I listened I felt that there was a certain "snap" missing. Mallon sculpts the work almost in an Italian fashion, smoothly and with long legato, and this does something to Rameau's dance rhythms and the sharp attacks they need. But this may be only a personal gripe; in all, and at this price, this recording should be added to the collection of every French Baroque opera lover. [7/14/2004]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com