GLUCK Iphigenie en Tauride
Marc Minkowski’s new recording of Gluck’s masterpiece, as you might expect, is well attuned to the work’s intense drama. He is specially alert to the orchestral writing and he makes much of its colours in projecting its expressive and dramatic qualities. Occasionally he drives the music hard, but the tempos are rarely excessive and sometimes he holds back to allow himself time to wring the full measure of pathos or tragic import from the music. Once or twice he seems to me to colour it too strongly, almost distractingly so, for example in the introduction to Orestes’ ‘Dieux protecteurs’, which gets near to being pompous, or that to Iphigenie’s Act 4 air, which is fiercely done; and the heavily articulated bass-line and rather selfconscious phrasing in the final scene of Act 3 does not seem quite natural.
On the other hand, the uneasiness of the throb of the low violas in ‘Le calme rentre dans mon coeur’, belying Orestes’ new-found reassurance, is beautifully caught in the way he balances the texture. This is certainly a performance to take Gluck the musical dramatist fully seriously.
The cast is largely French, which is an advantage. Mireille Delunsch, who distinguished herself in Minkowski’s Armide recording (6/99), does so again here. Hers is an appealing voice, with a warmth and fullness that one does not always find in French sopranos; ‘O malheureuse Iphigenie’ is movingly done, in an almost inward manner, as a contemplative soliloquy rather than a passionate statement to the audience – but she can do that too when it is needed, for she has an excellent command of the French rhetorical manner. The many impassioned recitatives come powerfully across.
Simon Keenlyside makes an impressive Orestes, conveying the character’s tortured state of mind through his intensity of tone and line. He is master, too, of French declamatory singing, as his air at the beginning of Act 2 shows. The Pylades of Yann Beuron, sung in a strong masculine manner, is perhaps more conventional but there is some shapely phrasing and the last air is done with due resolve. Thoas, the Scythian king, is often presented as a barbarian (which of course he was to the Greeks), but here the civilised declamation of his opening air by Laurent Naouri has a hint of true nobility.
This then is a persuasive performance, alert, forceful, idiomatic. Yet I am not sure that I would prefer it to the Boston recording under Pearlman which, even if arguably less at home with the French language and its musical enunciation, seems to me, with its more natural flow and less forced approach to the drama, to convey better the breadth of this score, that sense of Olympian mastery that underpins the drama. But this new version’s sheer vitality may well tip the balance for many admirers of the work