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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714–1787)
Iphigénie en Aulide: Opera (1774, version 1775) [132:47]
José Van Dam (bass-baritone) - Agamemnon
Anne Sofie Von Otter (mezzo) - Clytemnestre
Lynne Dawson (soprano) - Iphigénie
John Aler (tenor) - Achille
Bernard Delatre (bass) - Patrocle
Gilles Cachemaille (baritone) - Calchas
Rene Schirrer (baritone) - Arcas
Guillemette Laurens (mezzo) - Diane
Ann Monoyios (soprano) - Greek Slave
Isabelle Eschenbrenner (soprano) - Greek Woman
Monteverdi Choir
Orchestre de L'Opéra National de Lyon/John Eliot Gardiner
rec. July 1987, Opera de Lyon, France.
La Rencontre imprévue or Les Pèlerins de la Mecque: Opera (c. 1764) [106:48]
Lynne Dawson (soprano) - Rezia
Claudine Le Coz (soprano) - Balkis
Catherine Dubosc (soprano) - Dardane
Sophie Marin-Degor (soprano) - Amine
Guy de Mey (tenor) - Ali
Jean-Luc Viala (tenor) - Osmin
Guy Fletcher (tenor) - The Sultan of Egypt
Jean-Phillipe Lafont (baritone) - Vertigo
Gilles Cachemaille (baritone) - A Calender
Francis Dudziak (tenor) - Caravan leader
Orchestre de L'Opéra National de Lyon/John Eliot Gardiner
rec. March 1990, Auditorium Maurice Ravel, Lyon, France.
Don Juan or Le festin de pierre: Ballet (c. 1761) [44:33]
(realised by Richard Englander)
English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
rec. March 1981, Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London.
ERATO 2564 695620 [4 CDs: 66:57 + 65:50 + 73:38 + 78:10]
Experience Classicsonline

This four disc set from Erato opens with Gluck’s three act lyric tragedy Iphigénie en Aulide, his first original ‘French’ opera for the fashionable Paris Opéra. In 1773 Gluck had been persuaded that he could establish himself at the Paris Opéra (also known as LOpéra) by François du Roullet, an attaché at the French Embassy in Vienna. Baille du Roullet provided Gluck with the libretto for Iphigénie en Aulide, based on the tragedy of Racine and founded on the play of Euripides. Initially the Director of LOpéra hesitated in accepting Gluck’s score. Fortunately he had a influential ally in Marie-Antoinette, the Queen of France, to whom he had taught singing and harpsichord. The first staging of Iphigénie en Aulide was at the Paris Opéra in 1774.
 
Gluck was to go on to have significant success in Paris writing four specifically French operas. He was a controversial figure often dividing opinion amongst members of Parisian music world. Musicologist Reinhardt G. Pauly writes, “In his Paris operas, dramatic continuity and persuasiveness are achieved to an even greater extent. Recitatives are free and flexible; far from being routine, they reflect subtle differences in temperament or changes in emotional states. Gluck’s orchestra likewise is enlisted for dramatic purposes … In his use of the orchestra, especially, Gluck builds on the work of his Parisian predecessor Rameau.” (Music in the Classical Period by Reinhard G. Pauly, Publishers: Prentice-Hall (1973, 1965) (second edition) ISBN: 0-13-607630-0).
 
The score to Iphigénie en Aulide has often been heard in the German version reworked by Richard Wagner in the late 1846 and early 1847 for a production that he was to stage in Dresden. Furthermore, Richard Strauss also set himself the task of making an arrangement of Iphigénie en Aulide for a Weimar production in 1889/90. The French version of Iphigénie en Aulide chosen by John Eliot Gardiner on this recording is generally the revision that Gluck prepared for the 1775 revival of the score.
 
After the richly varied overture to Iphigénie en Aulide, an undoubted influence on composers such as Donizetti and Verdi, the listener is treated to a feast of splendid music. As Agamemnon the bass-baritone José Van Dam is rich and expressive throughout and I especially enjoyed his Act 1, Scène 1 air ‘Brilliant auteur de la lumiere’. Anne Sofie Von Otter the mezzo-soprano clearly relishes playing Queen Clytemnestre and displays smooth, flowing and burnished tones combined with significant drama. Von Otter is heard at her finest in the aria ‘Par un pere cruel à al mort condamnée’ from Act 2, Scene 4.
 
Playing Iphigénie I experienced the voice of soprano Lynne Dawson as bright and often piercing, whilst her characterisation is moving and expressive. Iphigénie’s Act 3, Scene 3 air ‘Adieu, conservez dans votre âme le souvenir de notre ardeur’ is a highlight of the score. The role of Achilles is played by tenor John Aler with light and gleaming tones. Aler’s sensitive and expressive portrayal is splendidly heard in the Act 1, Scene 8 air ‘Cruelle, non jamais votre insensible coere ne fut touche de mon amour.’ I also enjoyed the dark tones of baritone Gilles Cachemaille as the high priest Calchas. His aria ‘Au fait des grandeurs’ from Act 1, Scene 4 is especially memorable.
 
John Eliot Gardiner conducts with a sure sense of style and polish and with exceptional security. At times I would have preferred the music to have been driven slightly harder; notwithstanding, these remain high calibre performances.
 
The three act opera La Rencontre imprévue (The Unexpected/Unforeseen Encounter) also known as Les Pèlerins de la Mecque (The Pilgrims to Mecca) is a form of French Opéra known as Comédie mêlée d'ariettes (Comedy mixed with brief arias). The opera was first staged at the Burgtheater, Vienna in 1764. Gluck’s libretto was written by Louis Hurtaut Dancourt after a 1726 play by Alain-René Lesage and Jacques-Philippe d’Orneval.
 
The primary role as Rezia is sung by soprano Lynne Dawson. Found imprisoned by Prince Ali in the Sultan’s harem Rezia is bright and assured in her aria ‘Ah! qu’il est doux de se revoir’ from Act 2, Scene 5. I was struck by the soprano’s especially attractive ornamentations. Tenor Jean-Luc Viala plays Osmin the servant of Prince Ali. This sweet-toned tenor communicates considerable passion in his Act 1, Scene 1 aria ‘Heureux l’amant qui se depetre de Cupidon’.
 
I was also impressed with tenor Guy de Mey in his role as Prince Ali of Balsora. His light and vivid timbre feels eminently suited to the high tessitura of the Act 1, Scene 5 aria ‘Je cherirai, jusqu’au trepas, l’objet céleste qui m’engage’. The soprano Claudine Le Coz is highly enthusiastic in her role as Balkis. Although sometimes lacking in fluidity Le Coz is especially confident in her Act 2, Scene 5 aria ‘Venez, venez, troupe brillante’.
 
The role of Calendar is taken by baritone Gilles Cachemaille who impresses with his smooth and rich timbre. In his Act 3, Scene 4 aria ‘D’une telle lachete’ the luxuriant tones of Cachemaille are highly expressive. Baritone Jean-Phillipe Lafont sings the role of the painter Vertigo. Lafont’s darkly menacing voice is splendidly characterised in the drama-laden aria ‘C’est un torrent impetueux’ from Act 3, Scene 8. As Dardane, Catherine Dubosc is a bright and attractive soprano and I also noted the creamy timbre of soprano Sophie Marin-Degor in her role as Amine.
 
The outstanding Orchestre de L'Opéra National de Lyon conducted by John Eliot Gardiner deliver pleasingly sympathetic performances that are consistently alert.
 
The final work in the set is the three act dramatic ballet Don Juan or Le festin de pierre (The feast of the stone). The opera was first produced in 1761 at Vienna’s Burgtheater to a stage design by the eminent Giovanni Quaglia. On this recording John Eliot Gardiner is using a version realised by Richard Englander.
 
For conductor John Eliot Gardiner the English Baroque Soloists deliver stylish and keenly observed performances on period instruments. I was struck by the sparklingly played Sinfonia that opens the score; Dance No. 7 is a stately gavotte and Dance No. 11 a breezy minuet. There is a foot-tapping character to Dance No. 19, a fandango and a regal quality to Dance No. 23. The light-hearted humour of Dance No. 27 is impressive and the final Dance No. 30 is a headlong chase of spirit and vigour.
 
The librettos and their English translations are only available online. Sadly the omission of a libretto from the accompanying booklet is an all too common experience today and a deplorable one. With regard to making librettos available by download: who wants to print off 62 pages and where do you store them? Or who wants to listen to their music sitting at a computer or laptop following the downloaded libretto? Added to the undoubted quality of these performances it is hard to fault the splendid recorded sound from the Erato engineers.
 
Michael Cookson
 


 


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