COMPOSERS: Christoph Willibald Gluck
LABELS: Pinchgut Live
ALBUM TITLE: Gluck
WORKS: Iphigénie en Tauride
PERFORMER: Caitlin Hulcup, Christopher Richardson, Grant Doyle, Christopher Saunders, Margaret Plummer, Nicholas Dinopoulos; Pinchgut Opera; Orchestra of the Antipodes/Antony Walker
CATALOGUE NO: Pinchgut Live PG 006
When after only a few minutes an operatic recording holds you in an iron grip, and the opera in question is one of the most profoundly affecting in the repertory, you feel justifiably confident that a performance out of the ordinary has reached CD. Pinchgut Opera is a Sydney-based group devoted principally to 18th-century performance, and has revived and later published live sets of Vivaldi, Rameau and Mozart works among others. In December 2014 they took on Gluck’s penultimate opera, the one many consider his masterpiece. The production received rave reviews. Listening to the soundtrack alone makes clear why.
Two interpretative features stand out: justness of overall performing style on the part of every participant, with particularly vigorous choral delivery, and masterly conducting. In a work at once Greek-Classical, neo-Classical, and startlingly modern in combination of psychological depth and plain-speaking idiom, every detail needs to be invested with expressive force. From the opening, Gluck’s magnificent sequence of calm-then-storm, it’s clear that Antony Walker, an experienced Gluckian (he’s conducted Orfeo ed Euridice in New York), is also an unusually sensitive one. Avoiding the tempo extremes that for me disfigure Marc Minkowski’s 2001 Deutsche Grammophon version, he achieves an unfolding both secure and keenly responsive to the content of sounds and silences. Particularly notable is the pathos sustained throughout the third act, most intimate of the four. In other hands it can lose intensity – not here.
The youthful Australian quartet of principals sings Gluck’s perilously unadorned phrases with unstinted involvement and, in the case of the warm, unstrained high mezzo Caitlin Hulcup in the title role, a remarkable degree of technical confidence; the baritone Oreste and Thoas and (especially) tenor Pylade exhibit passing signs of vocal stress, though in context these somehow add to the atmosphere. Other Iphigénie en Tauride recordings, notably John Eliot Gardiner’s, may exhibit greater polish, more specifically French grandeur. This one is alive from start to finish.