Notes and Editorial Reviews
A welcome and long-awaited reappearance of an exhilarating score, completing Erato's impressive range of Rameau's operas on CD.
It is only a short while since I reviewed a suite of dances from Rameau's opera, Nais. Now, hard on the heels of that disc (also conducted by McGegan, Harmonia Mundi, 7/95) comes a reissue of the entire work, albeit with judicious cuts. Nais was commissioned to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, and first performed the following year. Thus it was a vocal counterpart to Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, both pieces marking the conclusion of the War of the Austrian Succession. The present recording was made in 1980 following performances at London's Old Vic Theatre and at Versailles under the auspices of Lina Lalandi's enterprising English Bach Festival.
Though, dramatically, Nais is unremarkable, Rameau and his librettist, Louis de Cahusac, with whom he collaborated on many occasions, made a special point of establishing a strong relationship between dance and action. As Graham Sadler, editor of the edition and author of an informative introduction points out, Cahusac himself provided detailed choreographic outlines for the dances which feature so prominently in this piece. And Rameau responded with music which, of its kind, is much closer to the spirit of opera-ballet than heroic opera, and is representative of his finest.
Nicholas McGegan has an effective understanding of French baroque style and brings out much that is graceful and enlivening in Rameau's score. Only the Prologue bears any relevance to the Treaty which occasioned the work, and this in strictly allegorical terms. Here, John Tomlinson and Ian Caddy are especially effective. In the opera itself Linda Russell is appealing in the title-role with Ian Caley an ardent Neptune in love with her. But, as so often with Rameau's vocal music in the tenor register, the uppermost notes sometimes betray a hint of strain. For the most part I enjoyed the purely instrumental numbers whose participants seem to revel in Rameau's uniquely colourful orchestral palette. Who wouldn't? From the moment that we hear the superbly inventive overture, through to the sparkling tambourins which occur towards the end of Acts 1 and 3, Rameau never for a second lets us down. Much as I enjoyed McGegan's dance suite from Nais, there is nothing like hearing these wonderful dances in their dramatic context so carefully considered by composer and librettist. Only the choral singing occasionally fails to measure up to the solo and instrumental contributions. But this is, notwithstanding, a welcome and long-awaited reappearance of an exhilarating score, completing Erato's impressive range of Rameau's operas on CD.'
-- Nicholas Anderson, Gramophone (11/1995)