Gluck Orphée et Eurydice

A boisterous performance that makes rivals sound staid

Author: 
Richard Fairman

Gluck Orphée et Eurydice

  • Orphée et Eurydice

Marc Minkowski must know his way down to the Underworld by now, after Offenbachian trips with Orphée aux enfers (EMI, 1/99) and La belle Hélène (TDK, 3/02). Here he is heading to Hades again, though with a more serious mission.

Archiv’s recording of Gluck’s tragédie-opéra comes from a concert in the summer of 2002. As always, Minkowski proves to be a livewire conductor, never afraid of an outpouring of emotions that might sweep the music off its feet. This is not a simple matter of speed, though some instrumental movements like the Overture and the ‘Air de Furies’ are propelled along by a force of energy that is almost explosive. Turn to other conductors such as Gardiner or Ostman, and suddenly we are on firm land again, rooted by rhythms that are clear and regular and dependable. What is different about Minkowski is his fluid impulsiveness – unsettling to anybody used to old-style Gluck perhaps, but how involving this performance is, and how staid and formal most others sound in retrospect.

The other main point of interest here is the edition. Critical opinion has tended to prefer the classically simple Orfeo ed Euridice composed for Vienna in 1762. Minkowski, however, has chosen the 1774 Paris revision, for which the opera was recast in French, Orpheus became a tenor, and – most important for any lover of Gluck’s operas – a substantial amount of new music was added.

Only one other recording of the 1774 Orphée with a tenor hero graces the catalogue and that dates from almost half a century ago. Why the reluctance? Possibly because Gluck made this version for an haute-contre, a legendary beast half countertenor, half tenor. Richard Croft could plausibly pass for one, displaying both a good head for heights and also the agility necessary for ‘L’espoir renaît dans mon âme’. His Orpheus is a sensitive soul, singing for the most part in soft and tender tones that can be very touching, though when he does press harder, he can sound stressed (try the his very opening yelp of ‘Eurydice!’).

What Croft lacks is the stature of a mythological hero. I went back to Léopold Simoneau for Hans Rosbaud in 1956. What with his heavier voice, the higher pitch (though there are transpositions) and the slower speeds, one might have expected Simoneau to have been the one under pressure, but not a bit of it. He sings with nobility, elegance and the verbal authority that is the prerogative of a native French-speaker. If only we had his like today.

The other two principals here – Mireille Delunsch as Eurydice and Marion Harousseau as L’Amour – could hardly be bettered, Delunsch conveying a lovely human warmth in the short time available to her, Harousseau fresh and spirited. Minkowski’s choir and players are caught in full flight by Archiv’s lively recording, which puts the listener in the best seat of the house. Collectors of Gluck have no reason to hesitate. They will want the only period-instrument recording of Orphée with its tenor hero. But they will be glad to know that – a regretful nod to the Orpheus of one’s dreams apart – it captures a performance well worth having anyway.

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