Notes and Editorial Reviews
RAMEAU Dardanus: Suite. Le Temple de la gloire: Suite • Jeanne Lamon, cond; Tafelmusik Baroque O (period instruments) • TAFELMUSIK 1012 (67:12)
This arrived as a companion to Tafelmusik’s recording of Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music, which, with any luck, will be found reviewed elsewhere in this issue. Like that CD, this one is not new either; it was recorded in 2001 and originally released by CBC Records. Unlike the Handel disc, however, which was reviewed by Bernard Jacobson in Fanfare 21:5 when it initially appeared on Sony Classical, this Rameau CD does not appear to have been previously reviewed here.
As you can see from the headnote, this is not Rameau’s opera Dardanus, but an extended suite of 16 orchestral numbers taken from it. For a review of the complete opera, see entries by Brian Robins in 24:1 and Barry Brenesal in 31:5. Fortunately for me, since the recording at hand offers only the score’s overture and a generous helping of its set dances, I don’t have to deal with the labyrinthine twists and turns of Dardanus’s unwieldy plot or the infighting and even physical brawling that ensued between factions loyal to Rameau and those supporting Lully. From what I’ve read, things got pretty down and dirty, worse even, perhaps, than the infamous onstage slapping, hair-pulling, and nasty name-calling disturbance of the dueling divas that arose between sopranos Cuzzoni and Faustina during a performance of Bononcini’s Astinatte at London’s Haymarket Theatre in 1726.
One would be well advised to forego fluid intake before a performance of Dardanus, for as its critics complained, the opera was so stuffed with notes that for three hours there wasn’t time enough to sneeze. If it’s true, as the movie Amadeus has it, that the Emperor Joseph II thought there were too many notes in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, he’d have been carried out unconscious and wet from a performance of Rameau’s Dardanus.
The good news is that the suite recorded here lasts a mere 37 minutes and is a treat of pure terpsichorean delight. Ballet still played a central role in French Baroque opera when Dardanus came into being in 1739, and based on the evidence of these dance movements, Rameau invested a good deal of effort into capturing the musical essence of their steps. Lamon and Tafelmusik do likewise in performances that pirouette and plié with stylish elegance and flair.
No doubt exhausted by the trials and tribulations surrounding Dardanus, Rameau swore off opera for the next four years, concentrating on revisions and other projects. But in 1745 he received a number of commissions, among which was one for a short, one-act opera-ballet for the court’s entertainment. For the occasion, Rameau offered Le Temple de la gloire, a work on which he’d collaborated with Voltaire. It’s a tale of three kings, each seeking access to the Temple of Glory. The first two are turned away, but the third, obviously intended to personify Louis XV, is granted entrance. The story also doubles as a thinly disguised allegory on the relationship between the King and his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. It seems not to have occurred to the well-meaning Rameau that Louis’s wife, Queen Marie, and her children would be there. Oops. As one writer put it, “Rameau’s intended tribute was received with little enthusiasm.”
Rameau was one of music’s greatest—perhaps the greatest—master of the dance, and the two suites offered on this CD will keep your feet tapping for more than an hour. I continue to marvel at the robustness of Tafelmusik’s playing, noted in my review of the ensemble’s Handel album. This is a recording for those who hate period instruments (or think they do), because Tafelmusik’s mastery of them is of such consummate technical and artistic skill that you may well believe you’re listening to modern instruments. This whole disc is a joy from beginning to end.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins