Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?  
Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

William R. Braun
Opera News, August 2009

Although this 1956 Cologne Radio performance dates from a time when Gluck’s operas, other than Orfeo, were just beginning to regain their foothold in the active repertory, it is something more than a historical curiosity. Yes, there is a large, vibrato-laden string section playing at modern pitch on modern instruments. The cymbals and triangle apparently were borrowed from an early production of Stomp. Appoggiaturas are seldom to be heard, recitative is sung in rhythm, and the text is in a German translation (and not the standard one that Gluck would have known). But the performance, which is note-complete, succeeds. Indeed, when this style of presentation works, it defines the Classical period. Here, the end of Act II, where the feelings of characters trapped by obligations of public over private duty are reflected by the rigidity of musical form and strict rhythm, defines Gluckian expression. The style is retained unremittingly by all concerned, even when the crucial Iphigénie–Oreste interview in Act II sails grandly along. But the build-up to Iphigénie’s decision about the sacrifice benefits from the way the sustaining capabilities of modern strings can ratchet up the emotional temperature.

Conductor Joseph Keilberth is now remembered for his Bayreuth Ring cycles, his Richard Strauss and his Mozart. His Iphigénie looks backward from those reference points. Tempos are selected and maintained with real commitment. If he occasionally chooses wrong—the andante of “Le calme rentre dans mon coeur” twice too slow, the andante moderato of “Ô malheureuse Iphigénie” so quick that it is flustered—it only points out how well he usually does. The formality and integrity may represent a particular, defined tradition. But no doubt the “naturalistic” moment-by-moment delivery of rhythm and recitative in our day will soon represent period curiosity as well.

Pride of place in the cast must go to Nicolai Gedda’s Pylade, one of the three Gluck roles in his repertory. (His Admète in Alceste was heard at the Met in 1960.) His recitative is stately and aristocratic, and his “Unis dès la plus tendre enfance” defines what it means to have “honeyed” tone. He gives no hint that his tiring Act III aria “Divinité des grandes âmes” lies directly on the tenor break. Hilde Zadek’s singing—plangent, feminine, directly on the note—ensures that Iphigénie is the emotional center of the opera. These qualities must have made her an ideal Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, one of the few roles she sang during her sole season at the Met, 1952–53. Hermann Prey’s heartfelt efforts to produce the extremes of piano and forte singing cause him to lose control on occasion, but this is not exactly a fault. (He was only twenty-seven at the time.) This production has considerable merit; perhaps if it had been given for a live audience it would have had that additional tiny spark that would have made it a true landmark in Gluckian history.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2009

Before starting this review, an apology. I cannot tell if this was a live broadcast or a performance taped at the Cologne studio for broadcast, which is not the same thing. I question this because, though this is in Capriccio’s series “The Cologne Broadcasts,” the booklet clearly states “Recording: Köln, Funkhaus des WDR, Saal, 26.10.1956–30.10.1956,” which to me indicates actual sessions. Moreover, the performance sounds professionally engineered, complete with ambience and perfect microphone balance that will take your ears a while to accept as mono. Thus, I presume that this was indeed a transcription.

Those who insist on historically informed performances will dislike this recording, as it uses a full modern orchestra and really large operatic voices. Those who only like Gluck in the original language (in this case, French) will also be put off by it, as will those who dislike Hilde Zadek’s immense, knife-cutting, but unlovely soprano voice. The rest of you may indulge and prepare to be floored.

This is from-the-gut, no-holds-barred, openly emotional Gluck, which is just the way I like it…But oh, what a performance it is. If you are tense, in pain, overtired, or overworked, I recommend that you not listen to it, because these are precisely the feelings projected by the music and its performance. I enjoyed hearing Keilberth in something other than Wagner, and this Iphigenie simply adds to my high estimation of his art. In the opening scene, the orchestra surges, it thrusts, it bites and cries in pain; this is the antithesis of “relaxing” classical music, but the very soul of Gluck. Zadek’s entrance will pin you to the wall. The problem is that, when she softens her tone later on, there is no softening of timbre, though the voice remains steady and almost frighteningly “open.” If you admired her teacher, Ria Ginster, you will admire her. Overall, I give her an A+ for interpretation and C+ for actual vocal quality, but this is Gluck, not Mozart or Verdi, and I can accept it. Marcel Cordes, as Thoas, was the baritone equivalent of Zadek. His voice, too, is powerful and dramatic but not beautiful. Gedda and Prey, of course, had two of the most beautiful voices of their time, and their singing here is imbued with both musicality and feeling. Surprise delights were Claire Breske as a Greek woman and bass Herbert Beil as a Scythian.

No, this is not a historically accurate performance, but if you played it for Marc Minkowski or Roger Norrington, I bet they’d have a smile on their faces. These performers and conductor get to the heart of the music and keep pushing the envelope throughout its nearly two hours. Recommended.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group