Monteverdi: L’Orfeo

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Teldec Das Alte Werk
WORKS: L’Orfeo
PERFORMER: Cathy Berberian, Rotraud Hansmann, Max van Egmond, Kurt Equiluz, Nikolaus Simkowsky, Lajos Kozma; Capella Antiqua München, Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 2292 42494-2 ADD
This pioneering period-instrument recording of Monteverdi’s favola in musica, made in Vienna in 1968, strives for as authentic a sound as it is possible to recreate, but the result, though convincingly ‘early’ (L’Orfeo was first performed in 1607), has the atmosphere more of a museum piece than a drama. Harnoncourt adheres rigorously to the score, eschewing extraneous instrumental ornamentation and keeping the singers’ embellishments to a minimum. The result, though flawless in its execution, is curiously detached and sterile, especially when compared with John Eliot Gardiner’s sublime 1987 recording for DG Archiv, in which Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Anne Sofie von Otter give memorable performances.

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That said, it is hard to fault the singing. The chorus is exemplary and of the soloists, Cathy Berberian (sweet-toned as the Messenger and Hope); Rotraud Hansmann (Euridice and La Musica); Nigel Rogers (sadly under-used as the Second Shepherd) and Nikolaus Simkowsky (a genuinely commanding Charon) stand out. The proceedings are marred only by the inappropriate and curdled richness of Lajos Kozma’s Orfeo whose manner is wincingly melodramatic and wholly at odds with the pastoral nature and ardour of his character. Claire Wrathall