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Gluck: Don Juan; Sémiramis

Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall (Alia Vox)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Gluck
Don Juan; Sémiramis
Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
Alia Vox AVSA9949   55:69 mins

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Whether the recent complete set of Beethoven’s symphonies or the lavishly produced conversations between different musical cultures, Jordi Savall relishes a large-scale project. His latest offering might be more modest as he accepts ‘an invitation to the dance’ from Gluck, but it’s typically thoroughgoing. Better remembered today for his ‘reform’ operas, Gluck was an important figure in the development of ballet as it sought to transcend the decorative in pursuit of heightened characterisation and dramatic depth. Staged in Vienna in 1761 Don Juan was a landmark whose ambitions were amplified by Sémiramis – a dark cocktail of double murder with an incestuous twist improbably conceived for the wedding celebrations of Emperor Joseph II in 1765.

The story of Don Juan, familiar from Mozart’s Don Giovanni – or the Molière on which the ballet is based – was originally unfolded across 16 movements; but (like Tafelmusik on Sony) Savall opts for the later expanded version, and sets it on its way with a Sinfonia full of aristocratic swagger. He understands the subtleties of Gluckian grace and studied simplicity, while Le Concert des Nations respond to the fast numbers with gutsy, incisive aplomb – the famous Dance of the Furies from the Paris incarnation of Orfeo ed Euridice first appeared in Don Juan incidentally. For all that the music is delivered with stylish affection – the thrumming guitar and clicking castanets of the Fandango a case in point – the procession of mostly short numbers dilutes an experience that might better have been served by a fully-staged choreography on DVD.

Paul Riley

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