Gluck - Blessed Spirit
Gluck’s reputation today is based on his so-called “reform” operas Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste, composed in Vienna in the 1760s and rewritten for Paris a decade later, and on the two Iphigénie operas that he wrote on either side of the Paris revisions. But in the years before his reforms he composed some 20 operas, mostly to librettos by the high priest of opera seria, Pietro Metastasio. This concert includes five numbers from the pre-Orfeo years: wonderfully performed, the only cause for regret being the duplication of two items on Cecilia Bartoli’s equally wonderful disc, “Gluck Italian Arias” (A/01).
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.