> ROSSINI Guglielmo Tell [CH]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Guglielmo Tell

Giuseppe Taddei (Guglielmo Tell), Rosanna Carteri (Matilde), Mario Filippeschi (Arnoldo), Giorgio Tozzi (Gualtiero), Plinio Clabassi (Melchtal), Graziella Sciutti (Jemmy), Miti Truccato Pace (Edvige), Fernando Corena (Gessler),
Turin RAI Chorus and Symphony Orchestra/Mario Rossi
Recorded 13 November 1951, Turin
WARNER FONIT 8573 87489-2 [3 CDs: 65.41, 47.27, 53.04] Superbudget


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When this arrived I glanced at "Cetra" and at "Mario Rossi" and supposed this was the time-honoured 1956 performance which for many years remained the only one. The last twenty years have seen a complete reassessment of Rossiniís final opera and the several versions that have appeared, most notably under Gardelli, Chailly and Muti, have adopted differing solutions to the question of the text and the language but have in their various ways dispelled the notion that the opera needs to be presented with the drastic cuts made by Rossi (who was following a time-honoured tradition). That said, the 1956 set, tolerably recorded, remains valuable for the presence of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Guglielmo.

But, as you can see, this is another version under Rossi and I was unaware of it. The first thing to be said is that this is the untamed Cetra sound that made many collectors blench even back in the 1950s and treat Cetra sets only as stopgaps for operas otherwise unavailable. The voices are very close, very strong and with a cutting edge. Way behind them is a very boxily recorded orchestra, again with a strident treble and next to no bass. There is a fair amount of "wow" in the orchestra but the voices are firm. I take it (without having an original for comparison) that this has been transferred to CD "neat", with no attempt to attenuate it. To be fair, I listened to the last part on headphones and to my surprise, instead of boring a hole from one side of my head to the other, the effect seemed a little more rounded. Hitherto I had found it all too wearing to provide much enjoyment, but my wife thoroughly enjoyed it downstairs so a possible expedient, if you canít tame it in your listening-room, would seem to be to shut the doors and hear it in another room.

For the student of past performers, however, there is quite a lot to be appreciated. First, Rossiís conducting. He was then 49 and in 1945 had been recommended by Toscanini for the post of "Artistic Secretary" of La Scala. However, he preferred to accept the RAIís offer of the position of Artistic Director of their Turin Symphony Orchestra, remaining there till 1969 and occupying in post-war Italy a role comparable to that of Boult at the BBC in 1930s and 1940s Britain. The portamento-laden cellos at the beginning of the Prelude hark back to a pre-war style of orchestral playing in which morbidezza was the keyword. By the same token he obtains an extraordinarily poetic rendering of the shepherdís song, free in expression but swift in tempo. At the same time Rossi was working hard to bring the orchestra up to an international standard and, if wholly accident-free horns are too much to expect, there is sizzling vitality and striking accuracy in the faster string-writing and a whiplash attack which makes moments such as the ensemble which comes after "Resta immobile" thrilling indeed. In the later recording he had the RAIís somewhat lower-level Milan orchestra and partly because of this and partly because it was not "his" orchestra, he obtained a more generalised vitality.

Fischer-Dieskauís Guglielmo remains a remarkable document, his lieder-like care over the words in no way precluding a long Italianate legato. Taddei offers a more "normal" assumption and a finely authoritative one. He was by then 45 and on the way to becoming one of the leading Italian baritones of his generation. His Met debut took place that same year.

Carteri was about as close to a child prodigy as it is possible to get in a profession which depends on physical maturity. She began to study singing at the age of ten, made her debut in Lohengrin when she was 19 (but I canít tell you what her role was) and was 21 when she made this recording. The following year she appeared as Desdemona at Salzburg and later Poulencís Gloria was written for her. Perhaps all this happened too early, for my previous encounters with her were somewhat later recordings, a passable Traviata made for television and various re-broadcasts of RAI archive material which suggests that by the 1960s she was inclined to sing flat, and in fact she faded out of the scene after that time. Her Matilde is completely secure, her voice ringing with youthful splendour. Carteri was one of the generation of sopranos that lost out by that overwhelming presence of Callas that only Tebaldi seemed able to resist, singers whom the world would have welcomed with open arms at any other time. Another such was Anita Cerquetti who took the part in 1956. Both are strong assets to their respective recordings.

Unfortunately the 1956 set, once one has exhausted oneís praise of Fischer-Dieskau, Cerquetti and Rossi himself, has a cast made up of largely forgotten singers; mostly adequate, they do nothing to suggest we should remember them any more than we do. The present version has a fair list of distinguished names to follow. Filippeschi may not have quite reached the "great" status, but he negotiates a notoriously difficult role with technical ease and a good deal of musicality. To have Tozzi and Corena in small parts (both were well-established by then) is luxury casting, while Plinio Clabassi and Miti Truccato Pace, stalwarts of many a RAI production, are thoroughly reliable. And then we have the young Graziella Sciutti in a heavier role than those she subsequently undertook. All-in-all, while the recording is too "historical" in quality to make this a first, second or third choice, opera buffs will find a number of fine and interesting performances here.

Christopher Howell

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