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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Tancredi, ‘Di tanti palpiti’
Semiramide, ‘Ah quell giorno’
Maometo II, ‘Non temer d’un basso affetto’
La donna del lago, ‘Mura felici’
Il barbiere di Siviglia, ‘Overture; ‘Una voce poco fa’
L’Italiana in Algeri, ‘Pensa alla Patria’. ‘Cruda sorte’
Ewa Podles (contralto)
Orkiestra Kamerlana/Chamber Orchestra ‘Leopoldium’, and musicians of National Philharmonic/Wojciech Michniewski
Recorded live on 13th September 1998 at Polish Radio Hall in Wroclaw, Poland, during the concert of the 33rd International Festival ‘Wratislavia Cantans’ of Music and Fine Arts
DUX 0124 [60.24]

I first heard Ewa Podles as the eponymous hero on Naxos’s outstanding 1994 complete recording of Rossini’s Tancredi idiomatically conducted by Rossini scholar Alberto Zedda. Her steady sonorous contralto was ideally suited to this ‘breeches’ role. The following year she recorded a Rossini recital for Naxos (8.553543) that was also widely acclaimed, its contents having much in common with this 1998 live recording, the major difference being the inclusion of Arsace’s recitative and cavatina from ‘Semiramide’ (tr. 2) whilst missing the ‘Cenerentola’ excerpts. In respect of the contents of this disc, I have given them as listed on the back of the booklet, jewel case and slipcase. In reality the descriptions are of the aria and not the whole of the excerpt. Thus track 1, shown as ‘Di tanti palpiti’, actually starts at the beginning of Scene 5 of the opera with the 1 min 33 seconds of introductory music, followed by the secco recitative ‘Oh patria! Dolce e ingrata patria’, the aria proper starting at 5 min 09 seconds and concluding, in pretty standard time, at 8 min 05 secs.

Tracks 1-4 are all of breeches parts, Tancredi, Arsace, Calbo and Malcom, the latter (tr. 4) as the hero in Rossini’s adaptation of Scott’s novel ‘The Lady of the Lake’. Here Podles’s weight of tone and characterization are significantly better than Cecilia Bartoli on the first (1989) of her Rossini recital discs (Decca). In all these parts Podles’s voice is rich-toned with the nut-brown centre intensely sonorous and steady, the low notes of the voice being part of her very wide range and not of a gravelly sounding forced chest register (7.37 min of tr. 2). In these breeches roles this vocal quality allows Podles easily to convey the male character involved. I have spent some happy time comparing her vocal interpretation and characterization of Tancredi, Calbo and Malcom with those of the redoubtable Marilyn Horne in her complete recordings of the works. I can pay Podles no greater compliment than to say that she emerges even higher in my estimation from these comparisons.

After a well-shaped overture to ‘Il Barbiere’ (tr. 5) Podles tackles two of Rossini’s spunky ladies, Rosina (tr. 6) and Isabella (trs. 7-8). In these excerpts the tessitura is significantly higher than for the earlier breeches parts; indeed Rosina has been sung on record by the agile lyric soprano voice of Victoria de los Angeles. If Podles cannot quite manage that agility she certainly encompasses the range. In Isabella’s two arias from ‘L’Italiana in Algeri’ we are back in true mezzo territory, and while I find Agnes Baltsa’s tangy voice wholly admirable on the complete recording (DG), Podles doesn’t disappoint me here either.

The booklet includes notes in English and Polish on the ‘Wratislava Cantans’, Podles herself and the conductor. There is abbreviated applause between numbers whilst the recording is well balanced with plenty of air and ambient warmth around both the orchestra and the voice. In earlier decades Podles’s exceptional vocal gifts would have meant an extended discography of works by Rossini, Gluck and others. In their absence this fine recital should be added to the shelves of lovers of fine singing.

Robert J Farr


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