Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Gluck
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Orfeo ed Euridice
PERFORMER: Bernarda Fink, Veronica Cangemi, Maria Cristina Kiehr; RIAS Chamber Choir, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901742-43
Like Gardiner (Philips) and Bernius (Sony), René Jacobs presents Orfeo in its original Vienna version: which means we lose, inter alia, the D minor flute solo in the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ and the ‘Dance of the Furies’, but gain a drama of swift, shattering economy. Jacobs, though, is not averse to the odd deviation from the Viennese original. Orfeo’s plea to the furies, ‘Deh, placatevi’, and his lament ‘Che farò’ are both given with Gluck’s later, expanded endings. And Jacobs jollies up the A minor dance in the final ballet sequence with tambourines, turning what usually seems a faintly melancholy piece into a lusty bucolic one.

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From the unusually explosive overture – who said this was a conventional ceremonial entrée? – Jacobs conducts an urgent, pungently characterised performance. With phrasing more clear-cut, less moulded than Gardiner’s he gives each of the dance numbers a sharp profile, and has a keen ear for the originality and inspired simplicity of Gluck’s orchestration. As to the crucial title role, both Gardiner and Bernius opt for a male falsettist. But there are also arguments for the more ‘human’ mezzo-soprano voice; and to my ears Bernarda Fink is well-nigh ideal, her tone pure, even and glowing, her dramatic involvement palpable, yet always touched by a classical restraint. Here and there, as in her refined, elegiac ‘Che farò’, she tastefully ornaments the line, as did the original Orfeo, Guadagni, at revivals of the opera in London. Veronica Cangemi makes an appealing, slender-toned Euridice, more plaintive than passionate – though occasionally her intonation falters. And I liked the touch of coquettish mockery Maria Cristina Kiehr injects into Cupid’s song in Act I.

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If you want Gluck’s original version and a countertenor Orfeo, then I’d recommend the Gardiner over the more coolly conducted Bernius. But Gardiner’s Orfeo, the charismatic but vocally uneven Derek Lee Ragin, is not to everyone’s taste. And for many collectors this dramatically compelling new version will be a first choice, above all for Bernarda Fink, an Orfeo of rare nobility and eloquence.