Top 10 Gluck recordings

Friday, July 1, 2016

Ten of the finest Gluck recordings, including long-established classics alongside some rarities

Gluck: Italian Arias

Cecilia Bartoli mez Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / Bernhard Forck


'This is something very much out of the ordinary. These eight arias‚ taken variously from Gluck’s early operas (that is‚ those preceding his ‘reforms’ that began with Orfeo in 1762) or his non­-reform later ones‚ are almost wholly unfamiliar‚ but they are music of great power and character; and they are sung with an extraordinary emotional force and technical skill‚ not to say a sheer beauty of tone‚ that I cannot imagine being matched by any other singer today...' Read the review


‘Blessed Spirit – A Gluck Retrospective’

Classical Opera Company / Ian Page

(Wigmore Hall Live)

'It’s possible – who knows? – that these unknown operas would not hold one’s attention if staged today. But there is some first-rate dramatic music here, some of it recycled later. The aria from Ezio resurfaced as “Che puro ciel” in Orfeo, for instance, and the “A” section of the aria from La clemenza di Tito became “Ô malheureuse Iphigénie” in Iphigénie en Tauride. Sophie Bevan sings the Tito excerpt with such intensity as to make one almost sympathise with Sesto, the poor sap, in his infatuation with Vitellia. She is joined by Ailish Tynan in a recitative and duet from Il re pastore: their perfectly matched roulades in thirds, and the high horns in the accompaniment, provide the evening’s highlight. A substantial chunk from Orfeo ends with “Che farò”, taken at a cracking pace by Ian Page and sung with desperate urgency by Anna Stéphany. She brings a comparable passion to Clytemnestra’s scena in Iphigénie en Aulide, as does Bevan to the Italian Alceste. This is a terrific, unmissable disc...' Read the review



Mireille Delunsch, Charles Workman, Laurent Naouri, Ewa Podles; Musiciens du Louvre / Marc Minkowski

DG Archiv

'Armide has two features that set it apart. One is the extraordinary soft, sensuous tone of the music; Gluck said that it was meant ‘to produce a voluptuous sensation’, and that if he were to suffer damnation it would be for the passionate love duet in Act 5. And certainly his orchestral writing here has a warmth, a colour and a richness going far beyond anything in his other reform operas (apart from parts of Paride ed Elena). Secondly, there are several great solo dramatic scenes, two of them for Armide herself: the opera’s closing scene, in which she rails furiously at Renaud’s treachery, and one at the end of Act 2, where, discovering him asleep and torn between love and hatred of her enemy, she cannot bring herself to kill him...' Read the review


Orfeo ed Euridice

Sols; RIAS Chamber Choir, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra / René Jacobs

Harmonia Mundi

'With three distinct editions – 1762, 1774 and the Berlioz (1859) – plus various mix-and-match versions, a final choice is hardly straightforward. If you want a mezzo Orpheus in the Berlioz edition, go for von Otter with Gardiner. In the 1774 Orphée the Rosbaud recording still stands as a classic; but Minkowski offers a more complete theatrical experience. For Gluck’s 1762 original with a countertenor hero, I’d go for Gardiner with the uninhibited Ragin. But to the crucial question in this opera: which Orpheus moves you the most? I’d have to answer Fink, who, transcending questions of gender, makes a tender, infinitely touching and intensely human hero. Gluck wrote of ‘Che farò’ that ‘nothing but a slight alteration in the manner of expression is necessary to turn my aria into a puppet dance’. He would surely have had no qualms about Fink’s performance, a distillation of loneliness and grief too deep for tears.' Read our overview of all of the recordings of Orfeo


Iphigénie en Aulide & Iphigénie en Tauride

Sols; Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble & Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera / Marc Minkowski 

Opus Arte DVD

'The set is a platform with steps and a scaffold on each side, the orchestra behind. The costumes are modern, with Agamemnon and Thoas in uniform. An invisible chorus and the absence of dancing make the production far removed from anything that Gluck would recognise but that and one or two oddities are far outweighed by the intensity of the acting that Pierre Audi secures from his team. Minkowski conducts superbly. Buy this wonderful set, then read Barry Unsworth’s brilliant version of the Aulis story in his novel The Songs of the Kings...' Read the review


Paride ed Elena

Sols; Gabrieli Consort & Players / Paul McCreesh 

DG Archiv

'Kožená, whether putting across the restlessness of Paris’s first aria or the mixture of anxiety and resolution in ‘Le belle immagini’, or bringing an exquisite mezza voce to the set-piece in praise of Helen, is out of this world. Susan Gritton and Carolyn Sampson not only handle the recitatives with the same subtlety but sing their arias magnificently. One or two reservations about Paul McCreesh’s direction are insignificant in the context of the overall sweep of the drama. The Gabrieli Consort and Players are excellent, the high horns especially. It’s hard to imagine this set ever being surpassed...' Read the review


Iphigénie en Tauride

Sols; Boston Baroque / Martin Pearlman


'The principal existing recordings both have rather starrier casts. Muti’s is a big, modern opera-house performance, powerful and exciting, Gardiner’s more stylish, more concentrated dramatically. Both have Sir Thomas Allen’s superlative Orestes and for Gardiner Diana Montague is an outstanding Iphigenia. But I am inclined to think that this new set, in which Gluck’s ‘long sweep’ is so well captured and the work’s scale so tellingly conveyed without prejudicing its range and intensity of feeling, is the one I shall chiefly want to turn to...' Read the review


'Il tenero momento: Mozart & Gluck Arias'

Susan Graham (mezzo) Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Harry Bicket


'It's a very long time since I heard an operatic recital by a modern singer that satisfied me as much as this one does. Graham, now at the apex of her career, displays her skills as singer and interpreter in a sensibly planned and executed programme, comprised of arias from roles she has sung on stage. Graham sounds entirely inside all her music and dispenses it with a confidence and attack that is truly amazing, but the refulgent, vibrant voice and faultless technique are wholly at the service of the music, the mezzo showing a sensitive empathy with the emotions of every character she portrays...' Read the review



Sols; ROH Chorus and Orchestra / Charles Mackerras

Opus Arte

'Alceste was the second of Gluck’s “reform” operas for Vienna, composed in 1767 and published with a preface in which the composer (or his librettist, Calzabigi) proclaimed his resolve to divest his music of “all those abuses…which have so long disfigured Italian opera”. Mozart knew it well: witness the choruses in Idomeneo and the indebtedness of the Commendatore to Gluck’s Oracle. In 1776 Gluck rewrote the opera for Paris: it is this version that Janet Baker performed for her farewell to Covent Garden. It is wonderful to have her deeply moving portrayal made available after all these years...' Read the review


Il Trionfo di Clelia

Sols; Armonia Atenea / Giuseppe Sigismondi de Risio


'The set-up is typically Metastasian: three acts, six royal or noble characters, a succession of recitatives and arias. There is one duet, for the lovers Clelia and Orazio, and a final brief ‘coro’ in praise of Porsenna. All very old-fashioned, you might think, and indeed there is much secco recitative and plenty of coloratura. But Gluck is looking forwards as well as back, with several accompagnato recitatives and rich scoring: pairs of flutes, oboes, horns, trumpets and timpani, with an obbligato bassoon at one point and divided violas at another. His Achilles heel, as so often, is the plodding bass-line and the repeated notes in the upper parts; but in a performance as splendid as this you hardly notice...' Read the review


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