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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L'Italiana in Algeri (1813) [7:59]
The Barber of Seville (1813-1816) [7:22]
Il signor Bruschino (1813) [4:46]
The Silken Ladder (1812) [6:11]
La Cenerentola (1817) [8:28]*
The Thieving Magpie (1818) [10:24]*
Semiramide (1823) [12:45]*
William Tell (1829) [12:19]*
Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 1956-1964. ADD
Experience Classicsonline

I have no idea why the CD booklet gives Italian titles to half of the overtures recorded here and English titles to the rest.  No matter.  The music is wonderful, and even if these Giulini recordings show their age, this disc is a bargain.  Rossini's opera overtures are colourful, exciting and packed with good tunes.  Over 70 minutes of them in more than acceptable performances at the CfP price point is an attractive proposition indeed.

The sound is slightly problematic.  The Kingsway Hall acoustic is generally very good, but in the first couple of overtures on this disc the sound in a bit mushy in the middle and bass registers, though nicely defined up top.  By track 3 balances have been righted, though the aural perspective remains slightly distant.  For the record, all of these recordings were produced by Walter Legge, except  for Il signor Bruschino for which the producer was Walter Jellinek. 

Giulini plays these pieces with plenty of charm, taking full advantage of the brightness of the Philharmonia's violins. His approach is unhurried, generating pace from precise and incisive articulation rather than sheer speed.  The orchestra's sound is sumptuous, and may – in these period performance informed days – seem a little heavy, but there is no denying the beauty of the playing.  It is also individual: this orchestra not only is, but sounds like Klemperer's band, the one that made those magnificent Brahms, Beethoven and Bruckner recordings in the 1950s and 1960s.  Despite the sunny disposition of this Italian music there is a slightly Germanic grounding to the performances, at least to my ears. 

Not all the playing is fabulous.  The lilt in the violins in early pages of the overture to The Barber of Seville is wonderful, though the overly forward balancing of the winds in the “haircut music” - for those who have seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon - is not ideal.  The horns are slightly late in supporting the gloriously languid oboe solo in the early bars of The Silken Ladder, but the performance is generally characterful.  There are issues with clarinet articulation in a number of places, including in the solos in the overture to La Cenerentola.  Most impressive are the final three performances on the disc. First, a martial rendition of the overture to The Thieving Magpie, which builds to a fine climax with excellent contributions from solo trombone.  This is followed by a beautifully judged performance of the overture to Semiramide – just listen to the well blended and sweet-toned horn chorale before the overture is a minute old for a harbinger of the quality of this performance. 

A rollicking William Tell overture brings the disc to a rousing close with its galloping finale nicely realised and preceded by fabulous playing from solo cello in the aria, and a morning song that brings sweet playing from the Philharmonia's principal winds.  The storm is powerful, but makes the old recording creak at its hinges somewhat.

Tim Perry


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