Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714- 1787) is known for operatic masterpieces such as Orfeo and Alceste. He wrote a number of other operatic masterworks including Armide and Iphigenia that are not as well known but that richly deserve to be heard. Gluck's instrumental music receives little attention. In this CD, L'Orfeo Barockorchester conducted by violinist Michi Gaigg presents five short rarely heard Gluck symphonies exquisitely and idiomatically performed on period instruments. Gaigg, a student of Nikolaus Harnocourt, founded L'Orfeo Barockorchester in 1996. The ensemble specializes in rarely performed and unjustly neglected early music, such as these Gluck symphonies.
These five works date from early in Gluck's career, and scholars have questioned the authenticity of some of them. Some scholars have also questioned the musical originality of these works, as compared to Gluck's operas. These qualifications are quibbles when it comes to this recording. Ms. Gaigg and her ensemble play with enthusiasm, spirit and panache. The group communicates love and understanding for this music. They bring out both the angular and lyrical style of these pieces, the abrubt changes of character, dynamics and tempo, the orchestration with its use of horns, and the contrast between fast and slow sections. I loved their use of dying cadences at the end of passages. Listeners familiar with Gluck's operas will hear many resemblances in this music especially in the slow movements.
Of the five symphonies on the CD, the most impressive is the three movement "Weimarer" symphony schored for strings flutes, oboes, horns and strings. This symphony of about 14 minutes reminded me of many of Haydn's early efforts in the form. The opening movement features extensive writing for winds and contrasts between major and minor key sections. The middle movement andante also includes lovely interchanges between flute, oboe, and strings; and the symphony concludes with a short lively, dance-like movement.
The two movement Symphony concertante in D major also is an early version of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven's efforts in concertante form. Gluck's work features virtuoso writing for two valveless horns which play predominantly over the orchestra. A short three-movement symphony called the "Regensburger" scored for oboes, horns, and strings sounds a great deal Gluck as the movements are derived from materials he used in his early operas. The four movement Symphony in F major scored for horns and strings includes a poignant operatic andante, a fugual third movement, and an opening movement and finale featuring horn calls and hunting themes. The final work on the CD is the two movement Symphony in D major, also scored for horns and strings. The opening andante movement is highly vocal and declamatory in character while the concluding allegro is also operatically based.
The world of classical music recordings allows listeners to become familiar with well-known repertoire as well as with rare, specialized and neglected works. This recording of Gluck symphonies is obviously in the latter category. For newcomers to classical music, this recording would not be the best place to start. But listeners who love Gluck and early classical music will find this recording exquisite. Because of the unfamiliarity of this music, the detailed scholarly liner notes by Christian Moritz-Bauer were especially welcome.
Total time 57:18