Notes and Editorial Reviews
Gluck's Don Juan ballet of 1761 is reckoned just as important in the history of ballet as his Orfeo ed Euridice (which was written just a year later) is in the history of opera. That is doubtless true, though impossible to prove in practical theatrical terms because there is no way of showing precisely how the music is intended to relate to the action: a scenario survives for the ballet but the placing and the significance of the music remain uncertain. Attempts have been made to establish Gluck's intentions but no one can be sure of getting it right. So we are left with a fascinating score of 32 short numbers (the longest is the final one, 4'06'', for Don Juan's descent, familiar because it was to become the Dance of the Furies in the Paris Orphee et Euridice; the remainder average little more than one minute each) which includes some very appealing pieces, among them a charming gavotte, an attractive minuet a fandango drawing on the same traditional melody as Mozart used in Figaro, and many other brief and pungently characterized pieces; but many, too, are really nothing but accompaniment to some very specific stage happening of whose import we are simply ignorant, and to listen solemnly to such pieces is to my mind faintly absurd.
Very much the same applies to the Semiramis music of 1765, composed to the Voltaire tragedy for royal wedding festivities in Vienna. This opens with a sinfonia Gluck was later to use in Iphigenie en Tauride and continues with 15 short movements, many of them (for example the pair of Affettuoso movements on track 42) very characteristic in the way they quickly establish an expressive ambience. The performances here do all one can ask; Tafelmusik play with energy, a keen sense of the music's character and real feeling for its style. They are well recorded, though occasionally in Semiramis the trumpets seem over-prominent. Although the effect of the disc is piecemeal in the extreme, and in a sense vacuous (I say that as a description, not a criticism), it does, with the first CD recording of Semiramis, enlarge our knowledge of Gluck, and there is much to enjoy in it.
-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [10/1993]