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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714–1787)
Alceste - Opera in three acts. Italian version, Vienna (1767)
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano) – Alceste; Raoul Jobin (tenor) – Admeto; Alexander Young (tenor) – Evandro; Marion Lowe (soprano) – Ismene; Thomas Hemsley (baritone) – High Priest/Apollo/Infernal spirit; Joan Clark (soprano) – Eumelo; Rosemary Thayer (soprano) – Aspasia; James Atkins (baritone) – Herald/Oracle
The Geraint Jones Singers and Orchestra/Geraint Jones
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK, April-May 1956
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2979 [3 CDs: 59:38 + 72:06 + 37:17]


Experience Classicsonline

About eighteen months ago I reviewed this classic recording when it emerged on Hänssler (see review). Now that it appears as part of the comprehensive Decca Eloquence Kirsten Flagstad series at half the price.
The musical merits of the set were discussed at some length in my Hänssler review, where I matched it against Arnold Östman’s Naxos recording from the Drottningholm Court Theatre. Stylistically the Flagstad-Jones recording is dated and technically it’s no match for the Östman set. There is however that special treat to have one of the grandest singers of any time in a role for which she seems to have had a special affinity. The grandeur and nobility of much of Flagstad’s singing is on a level that makes it a shame not to have heard it. The dramatic Raoul Jobin as Admeto has also something to offer in intensity and involvement, even though this is unlikely to have been what Gluck would have expected. True Gluck-lovers will need both: Östman for a performance as close to Gluck’s intentions as can possibly be imagined; Jones-Flagstad for the starry quality of Flagstad. It should be remembered, though, that Flagstad was suffering from a heavy cold during the recording sessions and the producer John Culshaw tried to persuade her to abandon the project. But Flagstad persisted and the results are fascinating – on its own merits.
In my review of the Hänssler I intimated that they might have had access to the original tapes. Listening closely to some excerpts from both recordings I could detect small differences in sound quality. The Decca transfer seems to be more open and with more air around the voices and the instruments. I can’t honestly say, however, that the difference is very striking. The Hänssler transfer is at times more immediate and the voices are exposed with the same clarity. Though the Decca issue may be slightly more atmospheric, no one with the Hänssler already on the shelves need feel short-changed.
The layout is the same on both issues with one act per CD and here one can note some differences:
Act I
Act II

This means that the Hänssler takes some more time for each act and a difference of 3 minutes for act II may indicate that the Hänssler plays at a slightly lower pitch. To most listeners – including myself – this hardly matters, but it may be annoying for listeners with perfect pitch.
Where Decca definitely scores is in accessibility. Hänssler consistently offer only one track per scene, whereas Decca are much more generous; Naxos even more so:
Act I
Act II

Neither Hänssler nor Decca offer a libretto; Naxos have libretto with English translation. If I wanted just one recording of this opera in the original Italian version, I would buy the Östman set on Naxos: cheap and historically ‘correct’. But the Flagstad recording is a valuable document and with more cue-points and considerably lower price the Decca set is the one to go for.
Göran Forsling


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