> Rossini Baerber of Seville GROC [TH]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Rosina – Victoria de los Angeles
Figaro -- Sesto Bruscantini
Almaviva – Luigi Alva
Basilio – Carlo Cava
Bartolo – Ian Wallace
Berta – Laura Sarti
Fiorello – Duncan Robertson
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus (chorus master Myer Fredman)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vittorio Gui
Recorded in No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London October, 1962 ADD
EMI GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY CMS5677622 [2 CDs: 71.27+69.59] Medium price


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This classic recording has hardly ever been out of the catalogue since its first appearance. It has re-surfaced in various formats, and now finds its true home in EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century, at mid-price and on two discs. This gives it an immediate advantage over other highly regarded sets, including Marriner, Chailly and Patané, all on three discs, and still (as far as I know) at full price. Even the excellent Naxos set is on three discs, so the price advantage is all but wiped out. So, a famous two disc Barber, at mid-price, in re-mastered stereo, with full text and translation. Cut and dried? Not according to some.

In a recent survey of available recordings of this opera, for Radio 3’s Building a Library, Christopher Cook was rather dismissive of this version, finding Gui’s tempo ‘slow edging towards the solemn’, and while he rightly praised Gui’s scholarly approach to the score, he ultimately found that the conductor ‘sometimes takes himself too seriously’. Another opera guide I have also has problems with this version, concluding that it is finally let down by the supporting cast.

To my ears, and knowing Gui’s equally famous Glyndebourne recording of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, ensemble casting was one of this conductor’s real strengths, and I find no weak links – at all. As for tempi, it is true that one is slightly brought up short by the slow(ish) speed for the overture. But some of this is surely our familiarity with it as a concert piece, fizzing along and providing a rousing start to a concert. Gui obviously viewed things differently, seeing it more as an introduction to an unfolding series of dramatic events. Besides, when the main Allegro kicks in, Gui is not really that slow, and the final, long crescendo has a cumulative power that is thrilling. He is actually only a few seconds short of Giulini’s Philharmonia performance (on a disc of the overtures), once famous for its breakneck tempo. It’s also here worth quoting from Richard Osborne’s excellent booklet note, when he cites Gui’s protégé and successor at Glyndebourne, John Pritchard, who said ‘As a young conductor, I would think, as all young conductors occasionally think "Why doesn’t he get a move on?" only to realise, as cascades of runs ensued, how wise a practical and steady tempo had been from the outset’. It’s all relative.

The singers are uniformly excellent, most of them having sung together many times. Bruscantini, Wallace and Carva had all been in the Glyndebourne revival of 1961; Luigi Alva and Victoria de los Angeles were engaged at the insistence of the recording’s producer, Victor Olof, though both were experienced Rossinians. The whole thing gels beautifully from the start, and a real sense of ensemble, rather than ‘star turns’, is evident. I particularly like Alva’s contribution as Count Almaviva; this singer was a great stylist (as he proved in the contemporaneous Giulini Don Giovanni) and his mellifluous legato in the Act 1 trio ‘Se il mio nome saper voi bramate’, is a joy. The buffo element is not over-played, though the wit emerges effectively, and without caricature. Bruscantini is particularly subtle, his famous ‘Largo al factotum’ containing not an ounce of ‘ham’.

Rosina was a part de los Angeles was born to play. Her lightness of vocal timbre and wicked, girlish sense of fun are a delight. She also shared Gui’s prejudices in favour of authentic Rossini stylishly performed. One of her favourite stories concerned the great Adelina Patti. The young star had sung a highly decorated version of ‘Una voce poco fa’, the great opener to Act 1, scene 2, for Rossini himself. His response was typically dry ‘Very nice, my dear. Who wrote it?’

Anyone coming new to this opera can safely invest in this set, knowing they will experience a glimpse of a great Rossini tradition. The recording is slightly dry, with a small amount of tape-hiss, but excellent balance between singers and the crisp orchestra (Beecham’s RPO). I can do no more than quote the conclusion to Richard Osborne’s note, ‘There exist many memorable recorded mementoes to John Christie’s Glyndebourne, but few happier tributes than this to the spirit of the place he helped create’.

Tony Haywood

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