> Verdi - Falstaff [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Falstaff (1893)
Sir John Falstaff – Giacomo Rimini, baritone
Mrs Alice Ford - Pia Tassinari, soprano
Nannetta - Ines Alfani Tellini, soprano
Mrs Quickly - Aurora Buades, mezzo-soprano
Fenton - Roberto D’Alessio, tenor
Mrs Meg page - Rita Monticone, mezzo-soprano
Ford - Emilio Ghirardini, baritone
Pistola - Salvatore Baccaloni, bass
Dr Cajus - Emilio Venturini, tenor
Bardolfo - Giuseppe Nessi, tenor
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala Milan/Lorenzo Molajoli
Recorded Milan 30th March-15th April 1932
With a selection of arias sung by Pia Tassinari with various accompaniments
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Le Nozze di Figaro; De Vieni non tarder
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Lohengrin; Einsam in truben Tagen and Euch luften die mein Klagen [in Italian]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Werther; Letter scene [in Italian]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

L’Amico Fritz; Son pochi fiori
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La Bohème; Donde lieta usci and Dunque è proprio finita
Turandot; Signore, ascolta! Non piangere, Lui
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110198-99 [2 CDs 146.35]


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This was the first complete Falstaff ever made and preserves a performance of consistent and superior musicality. The cast includes some of the leading singers at La Scala, the conductor is the biographically obscure but prolific Lorenzo Molajoli, a notably dynamic force here, and the recording quality is clear, clean, free from obtrusive surface noise, well – sparingly - equalized by Ward Marston.

Should you want to buy it what will you be getting in the way of interpretation? Firstly Tassinari. She was twenty-nine, had only recently made her debut at the house and was at the outset of her twenty-four year La Scala career. She is forthright and energetic with a sensuality that is both youthful and knowing – a major interpretation by perhaps the best-known cast member. The appendix of items – principally wartime Italian Cetra recordings – show the advances in expression and colour made in the intervening period even if the initial youthful sheen has waned. Then there is the Falstaff of Giacomo Rimini, a buffo of distinction who’d sung at the premiere of Turandot at La Scala six years earlier. A putative rival as Falstaff to the great Stabile his is an immediately attractive baritone with a real downward extension tending almost to the bass-baritone. Emilio Ghirardini is Ford – comic, full of stagecraft and with a commendable voice – not outstanding but undeniably effective and well worth hearing as part of the so-called second string cast presented here. Nannetta is taken by Ines Alfani Tellini and she is charming – she doesn’t have an opulent voice but it’s well deployed. The husband and wife team of Roberto D’Alessio and Aurora Buades take the roles of Fenton and Mrs. Quickly. They recorded a number of duets together and the Sicilian D’Alessio was paid the signal honour by Toscanini of singing the Duke in Rigoletto in 1927. Whilst he was a favourite guest artist it was in the more provincial opera houses in Italy – Turin and Palermo especially – and a real international career rather evaded him. I suppose one can discern why from his performance here - he has a certain reserved suavity about him but the voice is nothing special. His wife is certainly flighty and full of passion – perhaps a little too much sometimes for the good of her voice.

Lorenzo Molajoli was one of those rather mysterious conductors who sometimes make an appearance in the discographical history of early recording. Probably born in Rome in 1868 he set off on a peripatetic opera career throughout the Italian and South American circuits. A regular at La Scala he was also busy in the recording studios – La Traviata, Andrea Chénier, La Gioconda and Il trovatore have all been reissued by Naxos in their uniform edition but I think that this Falstaff may well – not least because of the crisp ensemble and energy he imparts – be about the best of them. He’s notably good at controlled tempi at a basically brisk pulse. Above all else, I suppose, this Falstaff shows La Scala as it was a few years after Toscanini’s final departure; the sense of ensemble, orchestral and vocal, was pronounced, a cast now perhaps thought of as essentially of the second rank was still capable of splendidly convincing performances and the guiding hand of an experienced conductor was still available in the shape of Molajoli. As with most premiere recordings there is also something about this Falstaff that, whatever its limitations and imperfections, grips tight and won’t let go.

Jonathan Woolf

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