GLUCK: Antigono: Quercia annosa sull’erte pendici. La Semiramide riconosciuta: Io veggio in lontonanza; Bel piacer saria d’un core. Ipermestra: Non hai cor per unimpresa. Ezio: Se povero il ruscello. La Contesa denumi: Qua lira intempestiva…Oggi per me sudi. Le Cinesi: Son lungi e non mi brami. Iphigénie en Aulide: Cruelle non j’amais votre insensible. Orphée et Eurydice: J’ai perdu mon Eurydice. La Reconetre imprévue: Je chériai jusqu’au trépas / Daniel Behle, ten; Armonia Atenea; George Petrou, cond / Decca 478 6758
This CD was issued in 2014 but, although I was then writing reviews for a known classical music mag, I was not offered the chance to review it. Instead, I was given yet another heap of Chopin and Liszt piano CDs to review.
Which is why I write here on my own blog and not for them anymore.
My readers know how fond I am of Daniel Behle, both for his voice and his artistry, thus I was delighted to discover this CD in its entirety on YouTube. Alas, I have no texts or translations for the arias, but the stories of Antigono and La Semiramide are familiar to me and I sure as heck know the Orphée et Eurydice aria. Nonetheless, most of this review will of necessity have to be of the music since, for the most part, I’m not familiar with the specific words being sung.
One interesting thing I have noted over the years is that, even from his pre-“reform” period, Gluck’s music is recognizably different from that of Handel or any of the Italian composers of the period. There always seems to be a more direct approach to the melodic line, particularly in the dramatic arias where Gluck went straight for the simplest and most direct form of expression in the melodic line. Such is the case with the opening aria from Antigono. There is no attempt here to lure the listener with a regularly melodic line; as the orchestra goes, very rhythmic and in-your-face, so goes the tenor’s line, and Behle is fully engaged in this piece. Even in such a piece as “Io veggio in lontonanza” from La Semiramide riconosciuta, where the tempo is a bit more moderate and ornate embellishments such as trills, roulades and shakes abound in the singer’s melody, Gluck’s use of these devices is more dramatic than most of Handel. They call for, shall we say, a bit more muscle and a bit less “prettiness.” Think, for instance, of Mozart’s “Martern aller arten” or Beethoven’s “Ah, perfido!” for similar examples; and here, too, Gluck throws in a quicker, more dramatic central section. By the end of the aria, there is just no way on earth you could confuse this for a Handel aria, even the best Handel aria. And oh brother, does Behle nail all of it perfectly! At one point, he pulls a high note out of the air that sounded, at first, like a trumpet until I suddenly realized that it was him singing. Despite their very different timbres, Behle’s vocal control, coloration and dramatic involvement reminded me very much of Stuart Burrows and the way he sang Mozart, with a full-blooded approach now frowned upon but unerringly musical and dramatic.
His accompanying orchestra, Armonia Atanea, disappointed me in the more lyric arias due to their use of whiny straight tone in sustained notes, wrong though very much in fashion, but in the dramatic arias they are dynamite, there with Behle emotionally every inch of the way.
As in the case of Cecilia Bartoli’s Gluck recordings, these performances give one an almost ideal sound-picture of how the great man’s music should be sung and played. They have the “Gluckian edge” that I like to and expect to hear. You almost wish that Behle would record a couple of complete Gluck operas, particularly Antigono and La Semiramide riconosciuta of which there are no complete commercial recordings, but also in, say, a modern-day recording of Iphigénie en Aulide or Armide. As good as Charles Workman is on the Marc Minkowski recording of Armide, Behle is better, as he is in virtually every aria on this CD. Even in a “simple” lyric piece such as “Se povero il ruscello” from Ezio, certainly not one of Gluck’s masterpieces, he and the orchestra bring so much to the table that you’re curious to hear what the whole thing sounds like. Come to think of it, Bartoli has also recorded an aria from this opera, “Agh! non son che lo parlo.” Put them together in a recording of this opera complete and I guarantee you’d have something worth listening to. Note, for instance, how Behle even brings some drama to “Bel piace saria d’un core” from La Semiramide riconosciuto, exactly the sort of piece where a lesser artist would just sing the notes without the terraced dynamics and vocal coloration that he brings to them.
“Cruelle non j’amais votre insensible” comes from Iphigénie en Aulide, predecessor to the much more famous Iphigénie en Tauride, and although the music for this opera is more melodic and less “conversational” than its predecessor, it calls for an equal amount of drama—which is almost never brought to it nowadays. Some misguided “purists” will undoubtedly complain about a tenor singing the famous “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” rather than a mezzo-soprano without realizing that the French version WAS written for a tenor Orfeo. Behle does a superb job on it.
Considering how much energy and artistry that both tenor and orchestra bring to these arias, however, I thought it was a mistake to end with a slow aria, “Je chériai jusqu’au trépas” from La Reconetre imprévue, but it’s a nice piece and Behle sings it beautifully. A superb album, well worth seeking out!
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)