With this recording of Alceste, Sir John Eliot Gardiner redresses the balance and...
Andrew McGregor 2002
Despite being a watershed between baroque and classical opera - and a major influence on Mozart, Berlioz and even Wagner -Gluck (1714-87) is still best known today for one opera. Orfeo ed Euridice might be a masterpiece but it's one that has tended to overshadow his other fine achievements.
With this recording of Alceste, Sir John Eliot Gardiner redresses the balance and restores the most neglected of Gluck's great operas to its rightful place in the musical canon. The English conductor and early music specialist offers a reading of blistering psychological intensity and first-rate musical integrity. He also plugs an important gap on disc; the only other available recording of the 1776 Paris version of Alceste is 20 years old and features a musically marvellous but theatrically disengaged Jessye Norman in the title role.
Gardiner turns the full beam of his historically informed performance knowledge to the score, illuminating its subtle colours and harmonic inflections with a pace and power that never threaten to become too far, too fast. He's superbly abetted by mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, whose perceptive performance as Alceste is one of emotional sincerity and spot-on vocal accuracy.
There's not a weak link in the supporting cast, either, with the English Baroque Soloists providing a sympathetic cushion on which rest Dietrich Henschel's stirring and strong High Priest and American tenor Paul Groves' youthful and refined Admète. The Monteverdi Choir is equally impressive in its role as chorus.
It's all the more impressive as a recording for being taken live from recent concert performances at London's Barbican Centre.
Gluck is a pivotal figure in opera - not just because of the number of operas he wrote (more than 40) but because of the way he balanced the musical and dramatic elements of the form. Those latter qualities couldn't be better illustrated than in this fine Philips set. Highly recommended.