WORKS: Orfeo ed Euridice
PERFORMER: Sylvia McNair, Derek Lee Ragin, Cyndia Sieden Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 434 093-2 DDD
Rather perversely perhaps, the best accounts on disc of Gluck’s Apollonian masterwork are of hybrid versions of the score, not sanctioned by the composer himself; but recently there has been a welcome move away from this trend. John Eliot Gardiner’s first recording of Orfeo ed Euridice was, strangely enough, of Berlioz’s 19th-century edition, using modern instruments and the forces of Lyons Opera. He now offers us Gluck’s original 1762 Vienna version in all its pristine purity, played on period instruments and hailing from concert performances at various locations in Europe. And very good it is too.
Gardiner’s way may be too austere for some: emotional cruxes are rather too lightly glossed over, as are the substantial choral numbers and the concluding ballet. But he and his excellent trio of soloists manage the precarious task of balancing dramatic verisimilitude and classical elegance as well as any comparable rival version.
Derek Lee Ragin’s slightly precious Orfeo possesses a vocal security rare in countertenors and he responds eloquently to the hero’s changing predicaments. Sylvia McNair’s Euridice is similarly distinguished, even if she is overshadowed by the beautiful inflections of Cyndia Sieden’s delectable Amore, ravishing enough to make, all else being equal, this Orfeo as recommendable a first choice as any. Antony Bye