Gluck La Corona & La Danza
Though Gluck's major Italian operas—Orfeo, Alceste and Paride ed Elena—were to librettos by his exact contemporary Calzabigi, he also composed no fewer than 17 others (including a Clemenza di Tito all but 40 years before Mozart's) on texts by the all-powerful Viennese court poet Metastasio. La corona, the last of these, was intended for the Emperor Franz I's birthday in 1765, but owing to his sudden death it was never performed (in fact it remained unheard until 1937). As the present recording (made five years ago for Bavarian Radio) shows, it was well worth disinterring, even if the 'action' of this azione teatrale is of the slightest—an argument between Atalanta, her sister and a friend about joining in the hunt for a huge boar ravaging Calydon, followed by another with the prince Meleager as to who should be given the credit for killing it. The music consists of a three-movement sinfonia (including a number of hunting-calls), six arias and a duet (mostly extremely florid), and a brief final quartet; particularly striking are Atalanta's first aria, where the word ''palpitar'' sparks off elaborate fioriture, Meleager's second (with oboe obbligato) and their one duet. The Polish singers here make a valiant and quite creditable showing at their very difficult parts, which cast an intriguing light on the evidently considerable virtuosity of the young archduchesses who were to have given the first performance; only a hooty mezzo (who, one has to be ungallant enough to say, does not convey the impression of being ''of so tender an age'', as in the text) is disappointing. The orchestral playing is neat and fresh, and the recording clean: the gaps between recitatives and arias could with advantage have been shortened.
La danza, written ten years previously as a curtain-raiser to a ''grand ballet de bergers'', rather belies its description as a ''dramatic pastoral composition'' by being totally static: we find only a lover endlessly agonizing over the fidelity of his innamorata (despite her repeated assurances), who is going to dance at a local festivity. Gluck thought well enough of the music to use it again in revised form for his Echo et Narcisse a quarter of a century later: the sinfonia is charming, but the four arias and final duet somewhat overstay their welcome. This may, however, be due to a decidedly undistinguished performance: the soprano sounds cautious and lacking in confidence the tight-throated tenor produces an unpleasing dusty tone, and the apparently dispirited orchestra stolidly chugs through the all-too-many repeated chords of the accompaniments without the least trace of nuance.
Beware, by the way, of the flatulently over-free English translations: besides perpetrating grotesqueries like ''I bethink that I am …'', ''He deposes the arrow'' and ''May whoever remain who can!'' they are often wildly inaccurate.'