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Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) [102:00]
Iphigénie – Diana Montague (soprano)
Oreste – Thomas Allen (baritone)
Pylade – John Aler (tenor)
Thoas – René Massis (bass-baritone)
1st Priestess – Nancy Argenta (soprano)
Monteverdi Choir
Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon/John Eliot Gardiner
rec. Lyon, February 1985
DECCA ORIGINALS 4781705 [59:31 + 42:45] 
Experience Classicsonline

When it first arrived in 1986 Gardiner’s magnificent set did a great deal to rehabilitate Gluck’s modern reputation and it remains a revelation today.  It reappears now as a Decca Original, though one imagines that Universal are getting their titles mixed up as this set first appeared on Philips 416 148-2.  Gluck’s “reform” principles achieve their apogee here with music firmly in the service of the text throughout.  Gardiner and his team are fully in touch with Gluck’s keen sense of drama helped, no doubt, by their experience on stage at Lyon. 

Gardiner himself remains the leading light of this performance and is its chief virtue.  His sense of dramatic pacing has never been finer in an opera recording and you can hear this right from the opening storm scene which crackles with excitement, leading naturally into Iphigénie’s opening cries which seem to grow organically out of the orchestra.  His control of transitions is masterly, not least in the first act as the storm abates, leading into Iphigénie’s lament and then the arrival of the tyrant Thoas.  His pacing – and use of pauses – is at its best in the Act 3 scene when Iphigénie has to choose whether to kill Oreste or Pylade so that we really feel the character’s awful dilemma, and he controls the unfolding of the breakneck final scene so that it is exciting without ever feeling rushed.  The players of the Lyon Orchestra use modern instruments but play with such clarity and transparency that you really never notice and I certainly didn’t long for a period substitute. 

He is helped by a first-rate team of soloists led by Diana Montague’s magnificent Iphigénie.  She avoids any touch of the prima donna, singing with precision and clarity that show her mastery of period style without ever getting in the way.  Her arias, not least the great O malheureuse Iphigénie, get fully in touch with the drama of the situation and the horrible dilemma of whose life she must spare.  Allen’s Oreste is dramatic and intense, clearly a character who has been worn out by his flight from the Furies.  His vast experience of the Romantic repertoire helps Allen to enrich this character into a convincing flesh and blood human but he too sings with informed clarity so that his interpretation is never muddy.  John Aler’s tenor is warm and affectionate as Pylade, while Massis’ Thoas is bitingly intense, his fantastic vocal acting showing a king agitated to the end of his tether. 

The highlight of the set is the magnificent second act.  Oreste’s “calm” aria is deliciously undermined by the incessant intrusions of the orchestral strings, and the subsequent recitative duet between he and Iphigénie is hair-raising in its dramatic bite.  Particularly striking is the way in which Montague chooses to shade down her voice for an aside in which she comes to terms with Oreste’s death before imperiously sweeping out of the room, her public face fully back in place. 

So anyone interested in Gluck or Gardiner need not hesitate.  The sound is as clear and attractive as it has ever been and there are some very good booklet essays as well as full libretto with English translations.  Anyone seeking period instruments can turn with confidence to Minkowski on Archiv, but no one will be disappointed with Gardiner.

Simon Thompson






















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