Gluck Iphegnie en Tauride
‘With Gluck, there’s a long sweep to the drama,’ says Martin Pearlman towards the end of his illustrated introductory talk about Iphigenie en Tauride, included here at the end of the second CD. It is obvious from his performance that this is how he sees the work; and it is his capacity to sustain that ‘long sweep’ that makes this version so compelling and so powerful.
Gluck’s masterpiece plunges straight into the drama, the mini-overture quickly breaking into a storm scene, the storm at sea in which Orestes and Pylades are thrown up on the Scythian shore, but symbolising, too, the storm raging in Iphigenia’s soul. Pearlman, using period instruments (this recording is the first to do so), draws vivid and dramatic playing from his admirable group, and he is particularly successful, too, in the various dances in the course of the opera, which, beautifully alive and springy in rhythm, never for a moment permit the drama to flag – they emerge as an integral part of it, as Gluck intended, not as decorative interludes. With these clear textures, Gluck’s orchestral colouring comes across sharply as, too, does the lofty, hieratic quality of the work. There is tenderness as well, and it is thanks partly to Pearlman’s sensitive timing of the declamatory music that the opera’s climactic moment – the sacrifice scene, where brother and sister at last recognise each other – is so intense and poignant.
Although it lies quite high, the role of Iphigenia is often assigned to a mezzo, as if to heighten the intensity. Christine Goerke is a true soprano, which allows softer tones and more femininity than one generally hears, but there is metal in her voice, too (she does not altogether forgo vibrato), and the weight of the tragedy is by no means underplayed: listen to ‘O malheureuse Iphigenie’ – enhanced by the fine line of the oboe obbligato – or to her impassioned singing of the noble aria at the beginning of Act 4. Rodney Gilfry provides a strong, manly Orestes, not heavy but successful in conveying the tortures he is suffering. I particularly enjoyed Vinson Cole’s sympathetic reading of Pylades – lyrical, shapely and expressively phrased. Stephen Salters makes a vigorous Thoas, not as rampagingly barbaric as he is sometimes drawn. There is excellent choral singing.
The principal existing recordings, noted above, 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.'