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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
The Barber of Seville Overture (1816) [7.04]
The Thieving Magpie Overture (1817) [9.16]
La Cenerentola (1817) [7.23]
Il Signor Bruschino Overture (1813) [4.34]
The Silken Ladder Overture (1812) [6.27]
William Tell Overture (1829) [11.58]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, November 1958
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876 658442 [47.02]



If you wanted a definition of Wide Dynamic Range in RCA’s late 1950s recordings you could do a lot worse than cite Reiner’s 1958 Rossini overtures disc. This has been something of a reissue staple over the years, though never an especially generous one because it also manages to embody another reviewing shorthand – short playing time. To complete a trio of concepts it also reveals the difficulty of countering high-level residual hiss on tapes. All of the six overtures bear significant hiss levels though because of the massive dynamic range you won’t need very often to push the volume controls too high. All of these considerations would be problematic if the performances were perfunctory or merely adequate but this is Reiner and this is the Chicago Orchestra.

Turn to The Barber of Seville and one hears that fortissimos register with blistering immediacy. It makes listening at an acceptable level well nigh impossible, unless you fancy the idea of corralling the volume throughout. The overture to The Thieving Magpie is an instructive example of Reiner and the engineers’ control. The percussion sound rather military and the spatial separation is reinforced through their emerging from left and right hand channels. Reiner’s mock bombastic approach pays dividends, though some may miss the more grand seigniorial swagger of the classic Beecham, who does pay slightly less meticulous attention to the percussion part. I was strongly reminded of another stellar Rossini conductor, Toscanini, when listening to La Cenerentola. Of course there are differences in detail but the broad outline and sweep, not least relating to questions of tempo relation, are much the same.

Perhaps the opening paragraphs of the overture to The Silken Ladder are a touch inflated – though this is very much a question of taste – though one can unreservedly add that the vivacity and power Reiner engenders subsequently are mightily impressive. Perhaps my only real semi disappointment was the William Tell overture. Mihály Virizlay is an eloquent cello soloist but the temperature here is cool and the performance lacks the eloquent raptness and warmth that Beecham found in it. Certainly reserve has its place though here it rather lacks a stratum of feeling.

Given the short playing time and outsize dynamics there may be less of an immediate need for this – though Reiner enthusiasts may want to (re) acquaint themselves with it.

Jonathan Woolf




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