Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gluck
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Iphigénie en Tauride
PERFORMER: Christine Goerke, Rodney Gilfry, Vinson Cole, Stephen Salters; Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80546
John Eliot Gardiner’s 1985 recording of Gluck’s best opera by far – a much greater and more complex work than the overdone Orfeo – set a sensational standard, even if the work remains a rarity. Based on a production at the Opéra de Lyon starring Diana Montague, Thomas Allen, John Aler and Nancy Argenta, he elicited a performance both dramatically charged and musically thrilling, injecting a palpable Romantic wildness into Gluck’s admittedly ‘reformed’ Classical score. It was always going to be a hard act to follow.

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This new, all-American account, the first using period instruments, hardly eclipses Gardiner’s, but is a first-class effort all the same. The conductor Martin Pearlman not only introduces the work with an illuminating half-hour lecture, but inspires taut, incisive, well-paced playing that vividly conjures the stage pictures suggested by the music (the calm dawn giving way to a tempest at the start; the frenzied dance of the Scythians, with its once-revolutionary use of cymbals and tambourines) and also reinforces the characters’ fears in its ingenious and evocative use of ostinato. It’s a shame, however, that the sound is sometimes thin, and the acoustic cavernous.

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Pearlman, too, has a fine, if less charismatic cast. Christine Goerke is sweet-voiced and affecting as the troubled, tragic Iphigénie, saved from sacrifice on the condition she becomes a priestess only to find herself compelled to execute her long-lost brother, Oreste, sung with great nobility by Rodney Gilfry to haunting and haunted effect. And Vinson Cole’s distinctive tenor perfectly conveys the firmness and truth of Oreste’s friend Pylade. Claire Wrathall