Music review: Orfeo ed Euridice, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

A concert performance that can lift Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice out of the commonplace - it is far from commonplace, of course, but of its time intrinsically stylised - and release the passions and tensions locked within its no-nonsense score can often be more helpful to understanding its emotional struggle than even the most glamorous full-blown stage production.
Orfeo ed Euridice, Usher HallOrfeo ed Euridice, Usher Hall
Orfeo ed Euridice, Usher Hall

Orfeo ed Euridice, Usher Hall, Edinburgh * * * * *

Even more helpful, as in this thoughtfully contained concert presentation by The English Consort, chorus and soloists under conductor Bernard Labadie, is to hear it so touchingly played, so perfectly proportioned, by a distinguished period instrument band. The 18th century-style oboe, bursting into song in the pastoral scene, was like an ecstatic sunburst - I initially thought it was a human voice - compared to the more focussed modern equivalent.

But it was the entire picture, created effortlessly by Labadie, that was so impressive here. His moulding of the textures was insightful, the velveteen softness of the cornets and sackbuts never a threat to the soft-spoken strings, the interplay of the echoing violins and centre stage tutti a telling amplification of the dramatic narrative.

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It moved like the wind, Labadie often treating the cadence of one number as a direct springboard to the next. But never in a way that rocked the music’s composure and stability. Pin-sharp detail counted as much as eloquent paragraphs. The dances danced.

English countertenor Iestyn Davies brought boyish charm to his portrayal of Orfeo, ravishing and pure in full voice, if slightly under the note in more reflective passages. Rowan Pierce beamed as Amor, while Sophie Bevan as Euridice captured more convincingly the softer hues of her character than the raging turmoil.

From his chorus the same perfection as the instrumentalists. Everyone wore black, except for Amor’s cheeky red shoelaces. Gluck’s music was the star attraction.

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