Recordings of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride run the stylistic gamut. And while, say, the full-blooded, almost Verdian, productions starring Maria Callas in the 1950s would never be confused with the more scholarly efforts from recent years, they are inarguably aspects of the same piece. John Eliot Gardiner's 1985 recording, starring Diana Montague, John Aler, and Thomas Allen, represents an extremely elegant approach -- one that keeps an even keel, but which bubbles with an understated dramatic tension, most notably in the orchestra. It certainly represents one valid interpretation of Gluck's reformist ideals, maintaining a uniformity of expression that prevents individual moments from distracting from the overall effect of the piece.
Gardiner's unique touch is most audible in the orchestra and the ensembles. He brings articulations out of the strings especially that add incredible depth to Gluck's instrumental storytelling, and the women's chorus, here playing priestesses of the goddess Diana, delivers a crystalline, tonally pure performance. As the heroine, Diana Montegue sings clearly and capably, but she surrenders center stage to her more vocally assertive costars. Aler's tightly focused, somewhat throaty tenor is a good match for the role of Pylades, making the most of his more lyrical moments. Thomas Allen makes short work of the tricky-high "Dieux quit me poursuivez," and then delivers an almost eerily peaceful "Le calme rentre dans mon coeur" over Gardiner's pulsing strings. Although he sounds more distant than the other singers, he still manages to steal the show.
If the recording has one persistent flaw, it is the too-distant-by-half focus of the voices, which don't quite cut the way they should. They lack punch. But overall this is a strong choice as a first or primary recording of Iphigénie.