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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Seasons (abridged) [86:32]
Gabriella Gatti (soprano), Francesco Albanese (tenor), Luciano Neroni (bass)
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro Lirico dell’EIAR/Vittorio Gui
Recorded 10th-14th June 1943 at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)

Arianna: Il lamento di Arianna [08:18] (1)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Le nozze di Figaro: Porgi amor [04:08] (2)
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Oberon: Piangi mio cuor [04:32] (3)
Gabriella Gatti (soprano), Orchestra Sinfonica dell’EIAR/Alfredo Simonetto (1), Fernando Previtali (2, 3)
Recorded in August 1941 at the Teatro Nuovo of Turin
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART

Die Zauberflöte: Possenti numi [03:16] (4)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Mosè in Egitto: Eterno! Immenso! Incomprensibil Dio! [04:42] (5), Il barbiere di Siviglia: La calunnia [04:10] (6)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)

I puritani: Suoni la tromba [03:42] (7)
Luciano Neroni (bass), with Giuseppe Manacchini (baritone) (7), Orchestra Sinfonica dell’EIAR/Mario Rossi (4), Alfredo Simonetto (5), Ugo Tansini (6, 7)
Recorded 28th October 1948 (4), 14th October 1948 (5), 15th June 1943 (6), July 1939 (7), at the Turin Conservatoire (4, 5), Teatro La Fenice, Venice (6), Teatro Nuovo of Turin (7)
WARNER FONIT 5050467-7898-2-1 [64:50 + 55:29]

 

How interesting that the first ever recording of "The Seasons" should have come from wartime Italy. A detailed and fascinating essay by G. Paolo Zeccara – also very well translated by Nigel Jamieson – gives us chapter and verse of the fairly meagre history of Haydn performances in Italy between 1938 and 1947. Actually, things were not much better anywhere else, and in most countries there was just one man who really laboured to put Haydn on the map while other musicians just had one or two well-tried works in their repertoire. In England it was Sir Thomas Beecham, in Denmark it was Mogens Wöldike, and in Italy it was Vittorio Gui. But, aside from the curiosity angle, does it actually have anything to offer for us today?

Well, it’s sung in Italian, which I suppose is no sillier than singing it in English, as several subsequent versions have, except that most readers of this review will be English speakers who would prefer either the original language or the one they understand best. It’s also fairly heavily cut, but so were some other early versions. On the credit side, singers of whatever native language are usually taught to cut their teeth on Italian 18th century arias because Italian is a very easy and natural language to sing in, and in fact the singing here, solo and choral, exudes a natural love of the human voice which Haydn would no doubt have applauded. The recording itself is remarkably good for its age and provenance; the chorus is obviously a little fuzzy but the orchestral detail is fairly clear and the solo voices are well-caught. There is some pitch wavering which mostly affects slow orchestral passages and the surfaces of some of the discs are heavier than others.

On the downside, Gabriella Gatti has the sort of slightly shrill, tightly produced voice which we might today find a little "soubrettish"; her production and intonation are secure, but she tends to slide between notes, or to attack them from below, in a way that sounds to modern ears a little out of place in this type of music. The tenor also has this tendency; he has an attractive voice, quite light but with a certain baritonal quality which gives his timbre body as well. The bass, Luciano Neroni is cleaner in style than his colleagues and his well-focused singing – warmly baritonal rather than a big, black bass – gives pleasure. The choir, too, has a tendency to slide between notes – obviously portamento was in the Italian bloodstream in those days. The orchestral playing is extremely good.

However, if there is still any reason for buying this recording, it is for the sake of Vittorio Gui. Today, this conductor is remembered in England for his work in Glyndebourne as a successor to Fritz Busch (but you’d have to be fairly old to have actually attended any of his performances there) and for the three immortal sets of Rossini operas he recorded during this period. Some might also add his well-regarded version of "Le Nozze di Figaro". These, plus his other recordings – the Cetra "Norma", a "Mefistofele" for EMI and a series of live resuscitations, some more official than others – have given people the idea that he was just another of those Italian conductors who were able to lead operas very competently. He was in fact a great conductor whom Bruno Walter considered in some ways his spiritual heir – he invited him to Salzburg in 1933. Like his elder compatriot Toscanini, he was active in favour of contemporary music in his earlier days and tirelessly worked to give opera-dominated Italy a decent concert repertoire. His interests were concentrated on the German-Austrian classics (he was a famous champion of Brahms) and the French repertoire, Debussy in particular. Overtly emotional composers, such as Tchaikovsky, do not appear to have attracted him. He also liked to explore baroque music and maybe acquired a love of Handel during his Glyndebourne sojourn – he himself translated at least one of the oratorios into Italian. If from one point of view this could seem a somewhat circumscribed repertoire, within these limits he frequently sought out the more neglected corners of his chosen field. As late as his 86th year he programmed a rare suite by Roger-Ducasse. His conducting of Haydn is here splendidly clean-limbed, vigorous, bucolic and poetic as required. Better conducted recordings of this work would be hard to find, but whether this will commend the set to you in spite of the other drawbacks will depend on your intellectual curiosity towards the cultural environment in which it was made.

Another reason for acquiring the set might be the arias which complete it. We are not told who realized the orchestral part of the Monteverdi (it has about as much to do with Monteverdi as the Giazotto Adagio has to do with Albinoni); very likely someone like Malipiero, who was active in that field. It sounds like a piece of verismo with archaic leanings – an innocent ear might guess it to be by Respighi. But, having got over the shock that it isn’t Monteverdi as we know him today, in its own right it is a highly effective piece and the real point is that it suits Gabriella Gatti perfectly. All those slidings come into their own here and one can enjoy fully the fact that she actually has a very beautiful voice. This is really a rather wonderful period piece – you just couldn’t do anything like it today. Her Mozart is well-schooled – I didn’t find any objectionable features here – but it is her Weber which again comes into the "weird and wonderful" bracket. Singing in Italian, and in full agreement with her conductor that Weber is to be seen from a late-romantic standpoint, the actual result is very far from what would be seen as authentic today, but wonderfully compelling in its way.

In three of his arias, Luciano Neroni simply sings well, but his version of "La calunnia" is a splendid piece of singing-acting, even though he belongs to the school, prevalent at the time, that believes you can sing any notes but the ones Rossini actually wrote.

But back to Vittorio Gui, and it would be nice to think that this set might herald a new interest in his work, much of which is buried in the Italian Radio archives. At one time Fonit Cetra was the commercial outlet of the RAI – does this agreement still hold now that they are under the Warner umbrella? Alternatively, might Arts Archives, who have recently issued some recordings conducted by Peter Maag under an agreement with RAI TRADE, take a look at the Gui legacy? Just to give you an idea of what there is, let me conclude by listing some recordings which I know to exist. This is not intended to be a complete list, it is simply based on tapes which were re-broadcast between the late 1980s and the early 1990s, and I have ignored short pieces and concerto accompaniments. Obviously the material needs careful sifting – the orchestras have their limits, though they played better for Gui than for most other conductors, the recording venues often suffer from dry acoustics, and performances after the conductor’s 80th birthday sometimes sound tired. Still, here goes:

BACH: Cantatas 199 (Naples 1971), 209 (Venice 1963, with Martina Arroyo), 212 (Naples 1959), Suite no.3 (Naples 1961)

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio (Rome 1952, with Gré Brouwenstijn as Leonora)

BRAHMS: Symphonies 3 (Rome 1953) and 4 (Rome 1958), Serenade 1 (Naples 1965), Requiem (Turin 1966)

CHERUBINI: Requiem in C minor (Rome 1960)

DEBUSSY: Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune, Images (Rome 1962), Children’s Corner (Naples 1968)

DUKAS: La péri

FRANCK: Les Béatitudes (in Italian, Rome 1953), Prélude, Aria et Final, in his own orchestration (Milan 1960)

HANDEL: Concerti Grossi op.6 nos.5 (Naples 1965) and 8 (Naples 1971), Dettingen Te Deum (with Kim Borg, Rome 1959), Funeral Music for the Queen (Turin 1959)

HAYDN: Symphony 44 (Naples 1968), The Creation (in Italian, with Pagliughi, Monteanu, Capecchi, Rome 1951)

LISZT: Orpheus, Petrarch Sonnet 104 arr. Busoni (Milan 1966)

MASSENET: Manon (in Italian, with Carteri, Prandelli, Milan 1952)

MOZART: Symphonies 19 (Naples 1967) and 39 (Naples 1961), Sinfonia Concertante (with Brengola, Asciolla, Rome 1963), Requiem (Turin 1960), Così fan Tutte (Rome 1957)

ROGER-DUCASSE: Suite (Naples 1971)

SCHUBERT: Symphony no.9 (Turin 1958)

STRAUSS, R: Don Juan, Metamorphosen, Don Quixote (Rome 1964)

WAGNER: Parsifal (in Italian, with Panerai, Christoff, Callas, Rome 1950)

WEBER: Oberon (in Italian, with Picchi, Cerquetti, Pirazzini, Milan 1957)

Christopher Howell



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