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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Overtures

Tancredi (1813) [6:06]
L’Italiana in Algeri (1813) [8:04]
L’inganno felice (1812) [5:59]
La scala di sete (1812) [6:07]
Il barbiere de Siviglia (1816)  [7:39]
Il signor Bruschino (1813) [5:11]
La cambiale di matrimonio (1810) [5:16]
Il Turco in Italia (1814) [8:53]
Introduction, theme and variations for clarinet and orchestra, in E flat major (1810) [13:04] *
Charles Neidich (clarinet), Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
rec. Performing Arts Centre, State University of New York, Purchase, December 1994, * April, 1991.
Deutsche Grammophon ENTRÉE 00289 477 5012 [66:18]

 

 

The conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is on fine form in this programme of music by Rossini.

The eight overtures played are all from Rossini’s earlier operas – there’s no William Tell here. Most follow the usual Rossinian pattern of a slow introduction followed by two themes, the first most often played by the strings, the second giving prominence to the winds. A recapitulation of the themes is followed by a brilliant coda. Along the way there are, without fail, some striking touches of instrumental colour and one of Rossini’s characteristic crescendos, built over an ostinato rhythm, more and more instruments added as the music gets louder and louder. The results are so exciting and stirring that even the rowdiest of early nineteenth century audiences must have been dissuaded from idle chatter!

All of these overtures belong to the period when Rossini was writing for relatively modest forces. The dimensions of the music are well-suited to a chamber orchestra such as the Orpheus, whose clear and relatively small-scale sound allows the detail of the music to work in ways that are not always evident in large orchestra performances of Rossini’s overtures. Some conductors are tempted to exaggerate the brilliance and colour of Rossini’s writing, to turn the overtures into mere orchestral showpieces. There’s none of that here, the music being treated with respect – without ever being allowed to become over-solemn.

The allegro of the overture to L’Italiana in Algeri is delightfully vivacious and the following oboe melody is properly mischievous; the reprise and the unexpected modulation are very well handled. One senses the orchestra’s own sense of fun as the violinists use their bows to tap their music stands in the overture to Il signor Bruschino; indeed these performances convey a real sense of musicians enjoying themselves.

There are plenty of collections of Rossini’s overtures to be had on CD, such as those by Riccardo Chailly and the National Philharmonic Orchestra, by Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields or Carlo Maria Giulini and the Philharmonia Orchestra. All have their attractions – as indeed does the collection by Toscanini (on Aura Classics), even if the editions then in use were somewhat corrupt, Rossini’s essential clarity varnished over, as it were, with later additions. It would be quite wrong to think of this reissued CD (last issued, I think, on DG 415 363-2GH) as ‘replacing’ or superseding any of these famous versions. But it deserves to be heard alongside them, and no lover of Rossini’s music is likely to be disappointed by it.

Charles Neiditch is an accomplished soloist in the Introduction, Theme and Variations, a piece not certainly written by Rossini. Its Introduction is based on an aria (‘La pace mia smarrita’) from Mosè in Egitto; the Theme employed in the ensuing variations is from La donna del lago (‘O quante lacrime’). What is done with these materials may, or may not, be the work of Rossini himself; certainly the results are entertaining, full of Rossinian gusto and appetite. It is played in spirited fashion and makes an admirable ‘bonus’ to the overtures.

Glyn Pursglove

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