> Christoph Willibald Gluck - Iphigénie en Tauride [TB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Iphigénie en Tauride

Susan Graham (soprano): Iphigénie
Paul Groves (tenor): Pylade
Thomas Hampson (baritone): Oreste
Philippe Rouillon (bass): Thoas
Walter Zeh (bass): Minister
Olga Schalaeva (soprano): Priestess
Astrid Hofer (soprano): Priestess
Patrick Arnaud (tenor): Scythian
Elena Nebera (soprano): Greek woman
Vienna State Opera Concert Society Chorus
Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra/Ivor Bolton
Rec 2 August 2000, Residenzhof, Salzburg
ORFEO C 563 012 I [2CDs: 104.54]


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First performed in Paris on 18th May 1779, Iphigénie en Tauride was Gluck's last important work, and is his greatest opera. Its libretto, by Nicholas-François Guillard, is the finest poem set by the composer, and the opera as a whole comes as close as possible to the ideal Gluck sought, of a modern revival of the spirit of Greek tragedy. In this way it became in the fullness of time the inspiration for the classical scenes created by Bellini, Berlioz and Strauss.

Iphigénie en Tauride is well represented in the catalogue of recorded music, and this new version enters a competitive field. While it does not move ahead of the versions conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (Philips 416 148 2PH2), Martin Pearlman (Sony S2K52492) and Marc Minkowski (Archiv 471 133 2AH2), as a performance it has sufficient strengths to be taken very seriously indeed.

This new Orfeo issue is a live recording of a performance which took place in the courtyard of the old Archbishop's Residenz during the 2000 Salzburg Festival. The sound is at least good, at best excellence, and it captures the electricity of the occasion. Make no mistake, Ivor Bolton conducts a very exciting performance, making the most of the music's dramatic opportunities, particularly by pushing the tempo to extremes. Thus the exciting storm music with which the opera opens is pushed very hard, while the more reflective and emotional sides of the opera are indulged with slow, expressive pacing and sensitive phrasing. The cast responds keenly to these initiatives, and the sense of ensemble is palpable.

The Salzburg Orchestra plays with an intensity which is a tribute to their skill and commitment, as well as to their relationship with their British conductor. Some might say that the result of this somewhat romanticised, interpreted vision of the work is to deny its essential nature as an example from the (earlier) classical period. There is mileage in such a view, but the music is strong enough to respond to varying interpretations, and this is one option. The rival versions, in their various ways, offer the listener a more refined, noble vision of Gluck's masterpiece.

The production was updated to a modern hospital ward, with (it seems) some of the characters wearing giant heads as if to emphasise their natures. This much is confirmed by the illustration on the front of the box. Of these unfortunate indulgences, there are thankfully no indications for the listener, and the performance is musically strong and sincere.

The singing is very fine. Susan Graham really interprets her character: her Iphigénie is emotionally involved in every way, her solos and her ensemble singing equally distinguished. Thomas Hampson makes a noble Oreste, imposing of voice and bringing out the dark tragedy of the role; he is also particularly effective in articulating the words during recitative passages. I also liked the Pylade of Paul Groves. Too light a voice can make this character seem overwhelmed by his friend Oreste, and that is not the case here. Likewise Philippe Rouillon is an impressive Thoas. This is not a big role but the appearances of the character come at crucial moments in the drama, and the impression made therefore needs to be strong. The choral singing is good but not outstanding, probably reflecting limited rehearsal time.

Anyone coming afresh to this opera will admire and enjoy this recording of it. The sound is good, the singing is good, the orchestral playing is good, and the interpretation is nothing if not dramatic. However, in a competitive market Orfeo have made some major errors as concerns their booklet. First - and worst - there is no libretto. Nor is there much information about Gluck and his work. Rather the content is given over to indulging the success of this particular production. It is nice to know that the critics had positive things to say about it, but as far as concerns the lasting document which is a recording, it is hardly relevant when indulged on this scale. For these reasons this new version, whatever its strengths, ranks fourth out of the four currently available recordings, which is a pity.

Terry Barfoot

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