Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Orphée et Eurydice
PERFORMER: Richard Croft, Mireille Delunsch, Marion Harousseau, Claire Delgado-Boge; Les Musiciens du Louvre & Choir/ Marc Minkowski
CATALOGUE NO: 471 582-2
The third instalment of Marc Minkowski’s Gluck cycle is an issue of enormous value – the French version of Gluck’s most famous work complete on record at last. Orfeo ed Euridice, the 1762 Italian-language one-acter written for Vienna, is one of opera’s turning points, a work of unparalleled potency of expression. For Paris 12 years later Gluck transformed it into a Rameau-influenced tragédie-lyrique – lengthening it to three acts, supplying radiant new dance episodes and adapting Orpheus’s alto-castrato line for high tenor. It’s widely argued that in so doing Gluck sacrificed the revolutionary immediacy of the original; modern Gluck practice, favouring the 1762 score in the theatre and on disc, has overwhelmingly done so – indeed, no new 1774 set has appeared since the mid-Fifties, when Léopold Simoneau (for Philips) and Nicolai Gedda (for French EMI) tackled the opera. Both of those fine recordings (the Gedda still unreleased on CD) were snipped; it’s one of the many merits of Minkowski’s exhilarating performance that the whole – dance finale included – comes across with such stylistic understanding. Notwithstanding some implausibly slow dance-movement tempi, the conductor reveals the Paris music-drama as no lesser an achievement than the Vienna. The choral and orchestral work is splendid, as are the principal sopranos – Mireille Delunsch, the lightweight leading lady of the earlier Minkowski Gluck recordings, is an eloquent Eurydice. The American tenor Richard Croft, taking advantage of the (authentically) lowered orchestral pitch, manages the high tessitura and the showpiece Act I finale with great skill – unlike Simoneau, who needed transpositions and cuts – but his Orphée, with patches of spread tone and ready recourse to glottal yelps, lacks Simoneau’s Apollonian nobility: the Philips set offers, I’d say, some of the most beautiful Gluck solo singing on disc. As a whole, though, this new Orphée is a winner. Max Loppert