> Giuseppe Verdi - Falstaff [RJF]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901).

Complete. Sung in English.
Falstaff, Andrew Shore (bar); Alice Ford, Yvonne Kenny (sop); Ford, Ashley Holland (bar); Meg Page, Alice Coote (m. sop); Mistress Quickly, Rebecca de Pont Davies (m. sop); Nannetta, Susan Gritton (sop); Fenton, Barry Banks (ten); Pistol, Clive Bayley (bass); Bardolph, Richard Roberts (ten); Dr. Caius, Stuart Kale (ten).
English National Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Cond. Paul Daniel.
Recorded 2001. Blackheath Halls, London. Mid price.
CHANDOS "Opera in English Series"
CHAN 3079
[2CDs: 58.12+67.24]


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Yet they still come. It sometimes seems that the only complete opera recordings that emerge from the recording studios these days are those supported by the Peter Moores Foundation. The Foundation sponsor the "Opera in English Series" on the Chandos label. Whereas some of this series have assembled the pick of UK singers as a special project, others, as here, have been based on actual productions at English National Opera.

The part of Falstaff can be seen as the ultimate challenge for the buffo or character baritone. Andrew Shore has had the part in his repertoire for some years and featured in the magical (except for the last scene) 1997 Production for Opera North. This transferred to ENO with Shore as the common component. His voice was never really refulgent or fruity enough for an ideal Falstaff. In the theatre, distracted by his considerable histrionic abilities, it was easy to overlook this deficiency. On record he has neither the ideal variety of tonal colour nor the legato needed, with the voice spreading under pressure. All that being said his characterisation is good and his diction even better. Ashley Holland, as Ford, also leaves something to be desired. His diction is variable, but he covers his tone and varies his inflections well to convey Ford's many emotions in his jealousy aria. Disturbingly, the voice beats (not quite wobbles) at the climax.

The lighter voiced women all sing well with Yvonne Kenny a spunky Alice whilst Susan Gritton's ethereal Nannetta is well matched by Barry Banks' youthful sounding, well enunciated, high tenor, brilliantly conveying Fenton's ardour. The Mistress Quickly lacks the required steadiness as well as the strength of tone the part calls for. The minor parts are variably taken with wobble balanced by Clive Bayley's well focused, if lean toned, Pistol, a highlight.

Falstaff was the culmination of Verdi's long career. His orchestration, with its finale fugue, represents challenges to even the best natural Verdians; I would not put Paul Daniel in that category. He could gainfully sit at the feet of Ted Downes or Mark Elder and learn what conducting Verdi's music is about. Changes of dynamic or tempo are not sufficient. He is not helped by the lack of atmosphere in the recording (unusual from Chandos) with the voices and orchestra set well back. Karajan's 1956 early stereo recording has greater immediacy if lacking warmth. However, if you want Falstaff in English, it's "Hobson's Choice" there is not likely to be another recording!

Robert J Farr

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