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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



THE WORLD OF ROSSINI
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Il barbiere di Siviglia: Overture
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly (London 1984)

Il barbiere di Siviglia: Largo al factotum
Leo Nucci (baritone), Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Giuseppe Patané (Bologna 1988)

Il barbiere di Siviglia: Una voce poco fa
Teresa Berganza (mezzo-soprano), Orchestra Rossini di Napoli/Silvio Varviso (Naples 1964)

Variazioni per clarinetto e piccola orchestra
Dimitri Ashkenazy (clarinet), I Filarmonici del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Riccardo Chailly (Bologna 1991)

Stabat Mater: Cujus animam
Luciano Pavarotti (tenor), London Symphony Orchestra/István Kertész (London 1970/1)

Otello: Assisa appié d’un salice
June Anderson (soprano), Debora Beronesi (mezzo-soprano), Anna Maria Restani (harp), Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Daniele Gatti (Bologna 1991)

Sinfonia "di Bologna"
I filarmonici di Bologna/Riccardo Chailly (Bologna 1992)

Semiramide: Bel raggio lusinghier … Dolce pensiero, Serbami ognor sì fido … Alle più calde immagini
Joan Sutherland (soprano), Marilyn Horne (mezzo-soprano), London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Bonynge (London 1965/6)

Tancredi: Di tanti palpiti
Marilyn Horne (mezzo-soprano), Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Henry Lewis (Geneva 1965)

La Cenerentola: Nacqui all’affanno – non più mesta
Teresa Berganza (mezzo-soprano), London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Alexander Gibson (London 1959)

L’italiana in Algeri: Overture
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly (London 1981)

DECCA 473 143-2 [78’15"]


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Since I have been writing for MusicWeb (a couple of years) I’ve dealt with Rossini Gala from Decca’s Opera Gala (458 247-2), a double CD album in DG’s Panorama series (469 193-2) and now this latest World of Rossini. Since Decca and DG are now in the same stable it is remarkable how much material is common to at least two out of three – more than enough to mean that nobody in their right mind would actually buy more than one of these compilations (and in any case the idea is surely that purchasers progress through samplers like this to buying complete operas).

I suppose Decca and DG know what they are doing, yet they can hardly complain with the one hand that the market for classical music is going down and down, and then act with the other as though in the course of a single year (these anthologies have come out one a year on average) enough new first-time buyers have arrived in the market place to make another compilation commercially viable (but wouldn’t these "new" listeners be satisfied with Rossini Gala or the Panorama album anyway?).

I’m not too sure about the catalogue life of discs like this and I may be wrong in supposing that a first time buyer is able to choose between the three; however, the following notes are intended as a partial survey of the current Rossini compilation situation.

General

Rossini Gala is all vocal – arias and ensembles. Panorama have one orchestral disc of overtures and string sonatas (all under Karajan) and one with fairly substantial excerpts from three operas (Barbiere and Cenerentola under Abbado, Semiramide under Bonynge) and the Stabat Mater (Giulini). As you can see, World of Rossini attempts a listener-friendly sequence by mixing instrumental items among the arias. Only Rossini Gala has texts and translations; World of Rossini has a good note by Raymond McGill, Panorama a flippant one entitled "Fast music and fine food".

Barbiere

Chailly’s performance of the Overture is lively enough but left me thinking I was maybe not in the mood for Rossini. Hearing the Abbado version (Panorama) proved that I shall always be in the mood to hear a performance as refined, pointed and witty as this.

The noisy Nucci/Patané version of "Largo al factotum" is common to Gala and World; Hermann Prey (Panorama) sings much better with no less humour, and Abbado’s orchestra provides plenty of point.

Eight years separate the Berganza/Varviso "Una voce poco fa" from her remake under Abbado (Panorama). Her voice and technical accomplishment are equally fine in both and since Varviso, at least in this instance, is a much more guileful Rossinian than Patané, there’s not much to choose. She has changed a few things, including one of the cadenzas, and Abbado has her sing the final page exactly as written whereas Varviso let her hold her high B for much longer. On Gala Marilyn Horne goes in for a lot of decoration – at times only the basic harmonic structure corresponds to the printed page. I’d like to know more about the philosophy behind this – are they known variants from Rossini’s time or did the singer (or the conductor, her husband Henry Lewis) write them? Oddly enough, at the famous "ma", made so much of by Callas but also by Berganza, Horne has a sudden attack of "play it as written".

Variazioni

A very pretty piece, played with virtuoso flair by the clarinettist.

Cujus animam

This is the young Pavarotti and his star quality is not in doubt. But Dalmacio Gonzales also sings well (Panorama) and his conductor, Giulini, makes an interesting attempt at finding the religious character of what can seem (and does under Istvan Kertesz) a march from a comic opera.

Willow Song (Otello)

A very beautiful piece. June Anderson sings it well, with a slight touch of swooniness which lends the character an air of vulnerability. It may seem odd to hear this music first from a soprano and then from a mezzo (at the same pitch) but Horne (Gala) is something else again, her rock-steady emission and fascinating, gutsy timbre explaining why she was one of the great singers of her times. But if you feel that Rossini’s Desdemona should have at least some character points in common with Shakespeare’s then you’ll have to prefer Anderson. Horne’s Desdemona would have been more than a match for Otello, Iago and anyone else you care to mention.

Sinfonia "di Bologna"

A till-ready introduction leading to a rumty-tum Allegro. I’d have preferred another aria.

Semiramide

The six extracts from this opera on the Panorama are from this same Sutherland/Horne/Bonynge set, but only "Bel raggio … Dolce pensiero" are common to both. Superior singing, particularly fine in the duet "Serbami … Alle più calde". Gala has an earlier (1960) Sutherland "Bel raggio … Dolce pensiero". It’s sung a semitone higher, which seems better suited to the singer (some enthralling top Es), but I take it Bonynge had some evidence that Rossini preferred the lower version.

Tancredi

An attractive piece, beautifully handled.

Cenerentola

This performance is also on Gala. The version on the Panorama under Abbado is 13 years more recent. Berganza’s voice still retained its full bloom and technical armoury; furthermore, the fact that the later one is from a complete performance means that we get the various choral interjections and a more "lived in" interpretation from both singer and conductor.

Italiana

This time Chailly is not on automatic pilot and conducts with much wit and point. Karajan (Panorama) finds a gently melancholy in the woodwind solos and a Beethovenish sense of purpose in the forte passages. But you might feel that these are not essential qualities for the job in hand, and some important detail gets lost in a reverberant acoustic better suited to Bruckner. I prefer Chailly.

Conclusions

Rossini Gala seems to me the best bet of the three if you’re new to Rossini’s operas but already have some overtures. If you need a selection of overtures then Panorama is a handy album, but The World of Rossini certainly has much to be said for it.

Christopher Howell


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