Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Armide (1777) [167:00]
Armide – Felicity Palmer (soprano)
Aronte – Yaron Windmüller (baritone)
Renaud – Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor)
La Haine – Linda Finnie (alto)
Ubalde – Stephen Roberts (baritone)
Phénice – Sally Burgess (soprano)
Sidonie – Marie Slorach (soprano)
Hidraot – Raimund Herincx (baritone)
Artémidore – Adrian Thompson (tenor)
The Richard Hickox Singers
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
rec. June 1982, Abbey Road Studios, London
EMI CLASSICS HOME OF OPERA 6407282 [3 CDs: 65:45 + 56:10 + 45:31]

By rights this recording should have stood as a good tribute to two great artists who have recently left us, Richard Hickox and Anthony Rolfe Johnson. In fact it’s a bit of a misfire in EMI’s otherwise very good Home of Opera series.

Hickox was an indisputably great conductor and he was hugely important in the “authentic” movement of the 1980s, but this performance is far too big-boned and Romantic for most 21st century ears. It’s apparent right from the overture which sounds heavy and even slightly cumbersome. Throughout the work the orchestra approach this opera as if it were Brahms. It’s an approach which, for me, just doesn’t suit this music; though, ironically, it probably sounded quite new when it was first released in 1982. No longer, however: Paul Minkowski and his Musiciens du Louvre (DG Archiv 459616) sound much more convincing in this work with lithe rhythms, perfectly balanced playing and a general feeling of energy that is just missing from here.

Unfortunately the singers are fairly ordinary too. Felicity Palmer sounds over-bearing and ponderous as Armide, lacking almost any of the sexual allure and seductiveness that the sorceress should possess. Rolfe Johnson does his best impression of a French haute-contre but ends up sounding weedy and uncomfortable, and the other roles are just as ordinary. There is nothing that will actively offend the ear, and Burgess and Slorach give distinctive support, but next to Delunsch, Workman and Naouri they just can’t cut the mustard.

It’s not helped by the frankly dreadful support provided by EMI. We know by now that this series carries no booklet beyond a brief synopsis, but the documentation supplied on the accompanying CD-ROM is pitiful. There is no historical context or analysis: instead you are only given the libretto in French with – unforgivably – no translations provided! In this case the competition knocks this set out of the water. You won’t pay much more for Minkowski but the experience he provides is immeasurably richer.

Simon Thompson

Beside Minkowski just can’t cut the mustard.