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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice (1762 Vienna Version)
Orfeo – Bernarda Fink (mezzo)
Euridice – Verónica Cangemi (soprano)
Amor – Maria Cristina Kiehr (soprano)
RIAS Kammerchor
Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
rec. January 2001, Teldec-Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HERITAGE HMY2921742.43 [40:07 + 50:32]

Harmonia Mundi’s Heritage series gives them a chance to reissue, at budget price, some of their classic, well-received recordings. We should offer three cheers that they have included this Orfeo as one of the first.

Its success is, in no small part, thanks to the orchestral playing and, even more so, to the rhythmic vitality of René Jacobs’ conducting. He was an Orfeo of note during his own days as a counter-tenor, so he has seen the opera from the inside and, therefore, makes it even more revealing for us to experience. His brilliantly spry rhythms are evident right from the start with his punchy, daring take on the overture, full of bristling quavers and trembling anticipations. The sound is very fresh, the best of what a period sound can be; full of discovery and revealing something exciting. The playing itself sits with this very well. The strings, for example, are baleful at the entrance of Hades, but then the harps sweeten them beautifully for Orfeo’s address to the Furies. We get an abbreviated Dance of the Blessed Spirits — better to have a little than not at all — and the deliciously reedy period flute makes a big difference. The strings are also much more agitated at the opening of the Third Act, with a palpable air of threat creeping in from the outset. The final ballet sequence is lilting and persuasive but, importantly, it also feels very physical and makes for a very satisfying conclusion to the discs.

The rest of the set hangs on the outstanding performance of Bernarda Fink, who is pretty much ideal as Orfeo. The voice is all but gender-neutral, virtually eliminating any concerns about whether the part should be sung by a male or a female singer. Her voice pierces the texture of the opening chorus of lament like stab wounds, and her first aria is full of emotion without ever sounding weighed down. Then in the subsequent recitative she sounds utterly broken and sorrowful, jumping through a huge range of emotions in a heartbeat. Her plea to the Furies at the start of Act Two is heartbreakingly poignant — no wonder they give in — and Che puro ciel has a feeling of wonder and discovery without overdoing it. The great Che farň is beautiful in its simplicity, its ornamentations moving yet discrete, as is the perfectly judged orchestral coda.

Verónica Cangemi’s Euridice is softer and lighter of voice. Che fiero momento manages to be worried and vigorous while avoiding spilling over into shrillness. Oddly, Maria Cristina Kiehr sounds strangely close to the counter-tenor type of voice, rather bizarre in intonation and pitch, and I didn’t warm to her. The singing of the chorus is good throughout: their Furies are perhaps a little underwhelming, but they — and the orchestra — sound beautiful in Orfeo and Euridice’s reunion in Elysium, with beautiful gentleness and lilt.

My only complaint is that there is no libretto. I appreciate it’s a lot to ask to get a paper one with the budget price, but surely they could easily have provided one on-line?

Simon Thompson



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