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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Giulio Cesare

Cleopatra – Renata Tebaldi (soprano)
Giulio Cesare – Cesare Siepi (bass)
Cornelia – Elena Nicolai (mezzo soprano)
Sesto – Gino Sinimberghi (tenor)
Tolomeo – Antonio Cassinelli (bass)
Achille – Fernando Piccini
Curio/Nireno – Gerardo Gaudioso
Chorus and Orchestra of the Theatre of San Carlo, Naples/Herbert Albert
Recorded live in the Teatro Grande, Pompeii, 6 July 1950
WALHALL WLCD 0024 [59.13 + 70.14]


Vesuvius erupted in A.D 79 burying Pompeii in lava and pyroclastic flows. In the case of small to medium scale eruptions the scene of potential devastation can span as much as four miles but the Vesuvian eruption of that year was catastrophic. But not as catastrophic as this release from Walhall.

This is a broadcast of a 1950 production – I use the word loosely – of Handel’s operatic masterpiece Giulio Cesare given in the Teatro Grande, Pompeii in 1950. It might, however, have been A.D.79 given the appalling splinter of noise that masquerades as music. It’s unquestionably the case that 1901 Zonophones from the dawn of recording history sound immeasurably better. So I’m afraid there’s no point discussing this performance, which sounds awful anyway, what little one can hear of it. Somewhere there is Tebaldi and also Cesare Siepi, a fine singer. One can hear that the opera has been cut, mauled, re-ordered, shorn of numerous recitatives and da capo arias and presented as butch verismo. The sound is unbelievably bad: constricted, distorted, full of rumble, radio station and static interference and utterly intolerable.

Beyond the jokes there are serious points to be made:-

1. Potential purchasers will be drawn to the full-length photograph of Tebaldi on the booklet cover.

2. First Time on CD, Walhall announces, enticingly, on the front cover.

3. They claim 24 Bit 96 KHz remastering.

I have no objection to material even as awful as this being released but:-

1. Walhall should note exactly where its source material comes from.

2. Notes should be provided.

3. If Walhall is going to dangle Tebaldi as bait and claim 24 Bit 96 KHz remastering then they have a duty and a responsibility to alert potential purchasers as to the dreadful state of the tapes. It’s highly likely that purchasers will be misled by talk of 24 Bit 96 KHz into thinking that these tapes are presented in a reasonable state of preservation. The complete opposite is the case. They’re effectively unlistenable.

4. All reputable companies dealing in historical material carry warnings as to preserved sound. I think of Arbiter, Music & Arts and Tahra, for instance, who routinely and minutely detail sonic imperfections, often when they are slight.

In short this is an unforgivably appalling release. It’s too much, I suppose, to expect that the producers, company and distributors will feel ashamed of themselves – but they should. I strongly suggest to them that this disc is either withdrawn or repackaged responsibly, in the way I have described. Nothing less will do.

Jonathan Woolf

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