The first commercial recording of Rameau’s first opera.
Thanks to several Eloquence releases, the pioneering work of Anthony Lewis in the field of Baroque opera is now readily available: ‘The Fairy Queen’ (482 7449) of Purcell, Handel’s ‘Semele’ (482 5055) and a compilation albums of Handel arias (482 4759) were all critically acclaimed at the time of their original release in the 1950s and 60s and they have gained a new and appreciative audience through the new Eloquence remasterings.
As director of an annual series of staged operas at the Barber Institute in the University of Birmingham, Lewis conveyed to first a local audience and then a more international one with these Decca and Argo recordings that Baroque opera should no longer be the preserve of scholars but contained as much lively and powerful drama as the works of Mozart and Puccini.
Rameau’s place in the pantheon of Baroque composers alongside Bach and Handel is now assured but only thanks to the persuasive force and intensity of recordings such as ‘Hippolyte et Aricie’ which was made in Decca’s West Hampstead studios in July 1965, a few months after the Barber Institute staging. The plot describes Phaedra’s incestuous love for her son Hippolytus, his equally hopeless love for Aricia and much violent divine intervention and retribution.
Even the usually sober Grove dictionary praises it as ‘a powerful and committed performance’. In fact this Classical-themed tragedy never enjoyed the reputation of other stage works by Rameau during his lifetime, but it is now recognised (again, not least, thanks to Lewis’s efforts) as one of the peaks of the composer’s output.
Hippolyte et Aricie
Aricie – Angela Hickey
Hippolyte – Robert Tear
High Priestess – Sylvia Rhys-Thomas
Phèdre – Janet Baker
Œnone – Patricia Blans
Diane – Rae Woodland
Arcus – Edgar Fleet
Thésée – John Shirley-Quirk
Tisiphone – Gerald English
Pluto – Roger Stalman
Fate I – John Whitworth
Fate II – Keith Erwen
Fate III – John Noble
Mercury – Nigel Rogers
Priestess – Jill Gomez |
Neptune – Christopher Keyte
St. Anthony Singers
Thurston Dart, harpsichord
English Chamber Orchestra
Recording: Decca Studio 3, West Hampstead, London, UK, 16, 17, 19 & 22 July 1965
First LP Release: L’Oiseau-Lyre SOL 286-8
‘A model of how Baroque music ought to be revived, being stylish without pedantry, passionate without excess … this performance does almost everything that can be done for the music.’ The Musical Times, May 1966
‘Instrumental and choral work is a constant source of pleasure … Dart’s contribution at the harpsichord is immeasurably inventive and expressive … the players convey a sense of truly enjoying themselves.’ High Fidelity, July 1966