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Mireille Delunsch – Iphigénie; Simon Keenlyside – Oreste; Yann Beuron – Pylade; Laurent Naouri – Thoas; Alexia Cousin – Diane.
Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble
Marc Minkowski – conductor
Archiv Produktion 471 133-2
2 CDs, £££

TPT: 98'29

In his excellent sleeve notes for this Minkowski production, Julian Rushton correctly maintains that the four-act Iphigénie en Tauride is equal in stature and quality to Gluck's more familiar offering on another Classical subject, Orphée. Certainly, it is the apex of Gluck's career and is important in that it spans those uncertain years when the High Baroque gave way to the galant Classical style. That it harks back to the 'good old days' of Lully and Rameau is without doubt, but in terms of both scoring and the preference for through-composed rather than da capo arias, we see a brave attempt at adapting to new ways of thinking. Rushton fails, however, to consider it in the light of a contemporary, whose operas are more successful in terms of impetus and, more importantly, providing a scoring that is suitable for the conveyance of dramatic action. Whilst Mozart's textures are thinner and less crowded, Gluck's are treacle-like, thereby posing problems for both instrumentalists and singers alike, since the very nature of the orchestration, combined here with an unwisely low pitch (a=403), bogs the performance down, leaving its forward momentum, in places, sadly lacking.

One cannot help but envy Mireille Delunsch in her role as Iphigénie...A relative newcomer to the international scene, she certainly makes a lasting impression with a top-drawer technique and an all-pervading sense of drama.

That said, the performers cope with these restrictions admirably. As usual, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble, provide an imaginative and convincing accompaniment, even if there are times when the listener feels frustrated by a series of plodding, ungainly female recitatives, which, in comparison with the male ones, become almost static. Accompagnato is difficult to achieve and, unlike recitativo secco, requires conducting, but Minkowski, in an unusual approach, seems too attached to Gluck's harmonies to notice the need for a little more drive. The speeds of arias seem to have been chosen with care, but combined with the thick scoring and pitch, less pedantry would have been certainly welcome. In this respect, Eliot Gardiner's approach on Philips with the Lyons Opera Orchestra (416 148-2), is perhaps preferable since, on the whole, his tempi feel much snappier and do not interfere with either the direction or flow of the dramatic action. But in almost every respect, Minkowski's choice of soloists is preferable. One cannot help but envy Mireille Delunsch in her role as Iphigénie, if only for the fact that she has the best arias in the whole opera. A relative newcomer to the international scene, she certainly makes a lasting impression with a top-drawer technique and an all-pervading sense of drama. Simon Keenlyside, as Oreste, generally hits the mark, although at times he could respond more to the drama of the situation, especially in the superb 'Le calme rentre dans mon coeur!' where he seems to want to hold onto the drama of the preceding scenes instead of investing the narrative with a new-found peace, something for which his warm and fluid voice would be well suited. Yann Beuron, as Pylade comes over well, as does Alexia Cousin's Diane, but it is in Laurent Naouri's Thoas that we find a most exciting and dazzling performer: he provides more than the right amount of menace in the (to use Gluck's own words) 'invective aria', and in many places steals the scene from the others in a well-balanced and driven role.

Overall, this is quite a welcome addition to the Gluck canon; despite a few quibbles concerning speed and sonority, the cast and characters work together in a well-conceived performance. The recording quality and mastering is superb and the package comes complete with full texts in French, German and English. A recommended performance.

John Woodford  

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