Gluck Italian Arias
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 nonreform 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.
Cecilia Bartoli’s range is formidable. In the first aria‚ from La clemenza di Tito‚ she sings with trumpetlike tone and brilliance of attack‚ throwing off widespanning arpeggios with evident abandon and dispatching coloratura with fluency and precision‚ each note articulated and perfectly tuned – like a row of faultless pearls‚ each one glistening. The second‚ an elegantly pathetic little piece from the later Il Parnaso confuso‚ is a tour de force of delicate‚ tender pianissimo singing. I love the way she gently draws out certain phrases‚ almost imperceptibly yet with a refinement and sensibility that are immensely affecting‚ as too is the ppp possibile of the final section.
The third‚ from Ezio‚ begins with an orchestral recitative of thrilling dramatic urgency and goes on to an aria of great passion. The next is from Semiramide (1748‚ the earliest item here)‚ a slight‚ ironic piece‚ whose temper is beautifully caught. The aria from La corona of 1765 has alternating slow and fast sections‚ rapt and intense music alternating with forceful expression and brilliant coloratura. Of the two numbers that follow‚ from La clemenza di Tito again‚ one is a hugely fiery piece‚ the other an early version of the music that was to become ‘O malheureuse Iphigénie’ (Iphigénie en Tauride‚ 1779)‚ to which Bartoli brings some of her loveliest soft tones; while the final number‚ from Antigono (and also reused in Gluck’s greatest opera)‚ provides some superlative turbulent singing.
Bartoli is described as a mezzosoprano on the jacket here‚ and her voice does indeed chiefly lie in that range; but most of these are soprano arias‚ and she happily goes well above the stave a number of times – there is one slightly squally high C sharp in the first aria but she is usually pretty comfortable in her top register and goes up to a high F in leaping coloratura at one point with evident ease and perfect control. Her elaboration of the repeat sections is always tasteful and in style. I am sure I need hardly say that every word is clear‚ and indeed the words are articulated as part of the music and its expression. The accompaniments provided by this Berlin periodinstrument group are splendidly alert‚ sensitive and pointed. A quite outstanding record that no one who loves fine singing can miss.