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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger




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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714 – 1787) – Iphigénie en Tauride
Iphigénie – Régine Crespin (soprano)
Oreste – Robert Massard (baritone)
Pylade – Guy Chauvet (tenor)
Thoas – Victor de Narke (bass)
Diane – Marta Benegas (mezzo-soprano)
Un Scythe – Guy Gavardo
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires/Georges Sebastian
Recorded May 29th 1964, Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791) – Di scriverni ogni giorno; Soave sia Il vento (Cosí fan Tutte)

Fiordiligi – Régine Crespin (soprano)
Dorablla – Jacqueline Delusseux (mezzo-soprano)
Guglielmo – Pierre Germain (tenor)
Ferrando – Michel Hamel (baritone)
Don Alfonso – Jean Cussac (bass)
Desire-Emile Inghelbrecht (conductor)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) – Gia nella notte densa (Otello)

Desdemona – Régine Crespin (soprano)
Otello – Jose Luccioni (tenor)
Georges Sebastian (conductor)
Henri TOMASI (1901 – 1971) – Sampiero Corso (excerpts)
Régine Crespin (soprano)
Henri Tomasi (conductor)
GALA GL 100.595 [69.58 + 68.37]



There is an area of Régine Crespin’s repertoire which is under represented on disc. Even the French version of the Amazon site (http://www.amazon.fr), who list rather more Crespin rarities than their English and American colleagues, are rather limited when it comes to Crespin’s recordings of operas in the French heroic tradition. It is this tradition, stretching from Gluck’s French heroines such as Iphigénie, through Spontini’s Julia (in La Vestale) and Cherubini’s Medée to Berlioz’s Didon and Fauré’s Pénélope, which is still under-appreciated today. Crespin was passed over for the role of Cassandre in Colin Davies’ ‘Les Troyens’ mainly because she had recorded some of the opera for EMI. Luckily this recording IS available, because we search in vain for complete recordings of other operas in this tradition with Crespin in a major role.

So we must be grateful for this 1964 live recording from the Teatro Colon, even if the recording itself sounds far older than its forty years. We cannot expect too much in the way of period-aware performance, but the orchestra under Georges Sebastian make a reasonably dramatic attempt at the overture and tempest. The sound is rather congested and the strings not quite as precise as we would like, but the music does sound like Gluck. This might seem a curious comment, but too often music from this French tradition is forced into an alien mould as conductors, singers and players interpret it according to other (generally Italianate) rules. Here Sebastian (a French conductor of Hungarian birth, who gave the first performances in Berlin of Bartók’s ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ and Krenek’s ‘Johnny Spielt auf’) seems to have been able to encourage his orchestra to take Gluck at his own value.

When Iphigénie enters we discover another of the recording’s drawbacks, the balance slightly favours the orchestra. This is most noticeable in the heavier sections, but it means that we get less of Crespin’s diction than we might. This is a shame, because this recording, besides being our only example of Crespin in a Gluck opera, is also that rare thing, a French opera recorded by French singers and examples of Francophone recordings of Gluck’s operas are especially rare.

Still, once Crespin has appeared we can forget about the muddiness of the orchestral texture and simply revel in the beauty and control of line that she brought to this music. Iphigénie is one of those curious French roles which are really suitable for a high mezzo-soprano. Crespin, a soprano who migrated later on to mezzo-soprano roles, brings to Iphigénie a voice which has a gleaming brightness that sounds right for the role.

‘Iphigénie en Tauride’ was written for the Paris Opera in 1779 when Gluck was 65, 17 years after the appearance of his first reform opera, ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’. In ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’ Gluck re-used numerous elements from previous works (notably his ballet ‘Semiramis’, and his opera ‘La Clemenza di Tito’) to forge a brilliant new work which grafted the ideas from his Italian ‘reform operas’ onto the French tragédie lyrique. Gluck wanted to create a new school of French opera and with ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’, one of his finest stage works, he laid the foundations for his continued influence on the French operatic stage.

Whilst Crespin is on stage we can be content to enjoy her performance. Her rendition of the opera’s most famous number ‘O malheureuse Iphigénie’ is a model of the understatement necessary in this music and Crespin even manages to rise above the rather puddingy support given to her by the chorus and orchestra.

But ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’ is certainly not a one person drama and when Iphigénie is not singing, things are rather more variable. I will quickly pass over the various dance interludes. They are adequate in the context of the dramatic whole, but hardly of a standard that would make them an object of interest or desire in their own right. As Thoas, Victor de Narke suffers rather more than most from the balance problems. His singing suffers from a lack of a sense of line and a tendency to bark, though he presents us with a dramatically credible performance.

Robert Massard as Oreste, also suffers from this lack of a sense of line. In Massard’s case, I think it is a question of him trying (and failing) to shoe-horn Gluck’s music into a later mould. This is a shame, as he has an attractive voice and he had played an important part in the international revival of operas by Gluck and Berlioz. As his friend Pylade, Guy Chauvet has a more secure stylistic grasp of the music and sings with a lovely sense of line. Nowadays a tenor would probably use a little more head and a little less chest in the higher register. But nevertheless Pylade remains a creditable achievement and his duets with Massard are an essential part of the opera.

This recording will never be a library choice for this repertoire, but its historical importance is great. And thanks to Crespin’s luminous performance it is eminently listenable, despite the shortcomings of the recording process.

The second disc in the set has 3 bonus tracks of Crespin in other repertoire. The first two tracks are the farewell quintet and trio from Act I of ‘Cosi fan Tutte’. Sung in French by a French cast, these performances give us a glimpse of Crespin’s Fiordiligi (she did not record the role in the studio) and enable us to enjoy the stunning line of her voice and limpid phrasing. Desdemona in ‘Otello’ is a role that she sang frequently and the extract given here, the Act I love duet, comes from a French language performance with Corsican tenor Jose Luccioni, the result sounds very French. Finally there is a short extract from Henri Tomasi’s opera, ‘Sampiero Corso’. This was one of a small number of contemporary operas that Crespin was associated with.

Even if the sound quality and orchestral performance are not ideal, this is a highly recommendable disc not just for anyone who loves Régine Crespin, but for everyone interested in the precious recorded legacy of an almost vanished performance tradition.

Robert Hugill

 



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