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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Iphigénie en Tauride. Tragic opera in four Acts
Iphigénie, Carol Vaness (sop); Thoas, Giorgio Surian (bass); Oreste, Thomas Allen (bar) Pylade; Gösta Windbergh (ten); Priestess, Anna Zoroberto (sop); Diane, Sylvie Brunet (sop)
Chorus and orchestra of ‘Teatro alla Scala’ Milan/Riccardo Muti
Recorded during live performances in La Scala, March 1992
SONY CLASSICAL SM2K90463 [2CDs: 69.24+47.10]


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The decline in the classical music industry over the past few years has been marked by the termination of contracts and the aborting of recording projects with many staff being made redundant. What cannot be done away with is the recorded archive. However, if its retail value is to be realized, then market awareness should be present and functioning in the staff that remain. If the inadequate presentation of the sixteen operas in this latest release from the Sony archive is any indication, there must be real doubt about whether there is anybody left in that company with a vestige of marketing expertise. The leaflet introduction, in German and English, devotes a mere seven lines to the plot and without any track indications either. There follows a track listing with the opening phrases in the normal way, but without any indication as to which character or characters are singing. It is possible to get away with this with the likes of ‘Madama Butterfly’ (reviewed elsewhere on this site), which is so well known, but not so for lesser-known works such as this Gluck opera, or the majority of these issues, which don’t even give the vocal registers of the singers. I write the foregoing as much in frustration as anger that such a presentation will limit the commercial appeal of these discs which some accountant will then decide to have deleted from the catalogue, consigned to slumber in the archives. Whilst few of these issues might be first choice, they are all worthy to be present in the catalogue.

This 1992 recording, with the full ‘La Scala’ forces, came into direct competition with John Eliot Gardiner’s 1986 Philips recording and without displacing it from critical affection. In attempting to master the fiendish acoustics of ‘La Scala’ the engineers set the solo voices very close with the orchestra and chorus set further back in the sound perspective. This has the disadvantage of accentuating the vibrato in Carol Vaness’s voice. Hers is a big toned dramatic interpretation, perhaps lacking something of the ethereal quality that the part needs and gets on later more scholarly interpretations. However, whilst I do like her fuller tone, and her ‘Ô malheureuse’ (CD1 tr. 30) is formidable, by scene 3 of the last act (CD2 trs. 21-23) I found her vibrato more intrusive and the forward recording of the voices distinctly tiring. As Pylade, Gösta Windbergh is open-toned, elegant and sensitive in his phrasing (CD 1 tr. 2). I could sense from this recording the Wagner roles to come before his premature death. Windbergh’s sensitivity is to be preferred to some of the big voiced Italian tenors who have recorded the role.

Thomas Allen repeats the characterful Orestes he recorded for Gardiner. His burnished tone and vocal manners make him ideal in this repertoire. The Thoas of Giorgio Surian is woolly of tone but the part is small. The minor parts are adequately sung by the theatre comprimarios. Any ‘La Scala’ performance will revolve around the work of the chorus and the conductor’s interpretation. In Gluck’s reform operas the chorus is a vital component and here the Scala forces are vibrant and well articulated, especially welcome when they are set back in the aural perspective. Muti’s interpretation is hard driven and furious at times, but that is valid and better than the nondescript placidity that is the downside of some later, supposedly more scholarly, interpretations.

This recording deserves its place in the catalogue. Pity about the presentation though.

Robert J Farr


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