Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Not HIP, but plenty musical

It's Canada Day, and I'm enjoying the fabulous singing of the great Canadian tenor Léopold Simoneau, in this CD re-issue of Carlo Maria Giulini's landmark 1952 Paris production of Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride. Simoneau is one of the glories of this project, along with more great singing by soprano Patricia Neway and the Ensemble Vocal de Paris, solid playing by Giulini's Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire Paris, and, most importantly, the gorgeous melodies and dramatic set-pieces of Christoph Willibald Gluck. Giulini's calm control over the music squashes nearly all of the qualms one might have about inauthenticity. Certainly there are passages that sound very odd to those of us who spend the bulk of our 18th century opera time living in the world of Historically Informed Performances, but I'm swept away by musicianship and compositional genius.

Let's compare this 1985 recording, with a fairly large orchestra, playing modern instruments, but guided by HIP principles, with the Orchestre De L'Opera De Lyon and the Monteverdi Choir, under John Eliot Gardiner:

with the Giulini version:

O.K., when you do this A:B, the Giulini begins soupy and swoopy, while Gardiner is crisp and clear, though some of that clarity is lost in a cavernous acoustic. But Giulini brings excitement when Gluck gets stormy, and the singing is perhaps a draw. I prefer Gardiner's version in the long run, but don't regret the time I've spent with this version, recorded in my own birth year.

A postscript about Simoneau: born in Saint-Flavien, Quebec in 1916 (I missed his Centennial last May 3rd!), he and his wife, soprano Pierrette Alarie, moved to Victoria, BC, where I live now, in 1982. Here the two great singers founded Canada Opera Piccola, a training and production organization that had a significant impact on opera on the Island and throughout Canada. Both died here in Victoria - Simoneau in 2006 and Alarie in 2011 - but their musical legacy lives on.

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