If there is one thing that every music-lover
thinks he knows about Rossini, it is that his Overtures include
a “Rossini crescendo
”. According to Saint-Saëns, in his
memoirs, this was something expected by the public which was “master
and its taste law. A great overture with a crescendo
as necessary as cavatinas, duets and ensembles”. Maybe that was
so, and certainly most of the overtures here do contain a crescendo
but it is by no means the main characteristic of the works. That
is their sheer invention, all the more noticeable by being for
the most part within the same general pattern of a slow introduction
followed by a simplified sonata-form allegro.
This is something
one becomes more aware of if you listen to this disc straight
through, but to treat that as a criticism of the music would be
unfair. These pieces were intended to get the audience ready for
the opera that followed, and the variety that Rossini manages
to produce within this simple ground-plan is amazing. Their similarities,
apart from “Guillaume Tell”, do become more obvious if listened
to in succession. They work as well opening a concert as an opera,
but to fill that concert entirely with such overtures would result
in a very unsatisfactory evening. If however you listen to these
works one at a time, savouring individual characteristics, there
is immense pleasure to be had.
None of these points are especially original, but they are worth making when considering a disc such as this where the performances and recording are enjoyable rather than outstanding. The delight derives mainly from the energy of the performances – an essential quality in this music – and the care obviously taken over balance. There are a few oddities at times including some strange phrasing in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” and an unnecessary accelerando
at the end of “Guillaume Tell”, but these may possibly be the result of the editions used or careless editing. Overall each overture is well characterised and the forward recording helps the music to make considerable impact.
The notes by Clemens Romijn give a clear explanation of the background to the opera although he says nothing about the performers or recording. For the benefit of anyone tempted to play the disc through as a whole it would have been better to have put the works in chronological order, as was done on Sir Roger Norrington’s similar collection. Had this been done it would have demonstrated the composer’s changing style more clearly. With the aid of the notes the listener can programme the playing order to do this.
For my own part, I love these works but much prefer to hear them before the operas for which they were intended. That said, collections of Rossini overtures have been available since the early days of LP and presumably there is a large market for them. This disc does not displace my favourites, including Toscanini and Norrington, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and, like any good recording of these works, is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and a desire to hear what comes next in the operas.