Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Overtures: La Gazza Ladra [9:01]; La Scala di Seta [5:48]; Il Signor Bruschino [6:19]; Il Barbiere di Siviglia [7:04]; Il Turco in Italia [8:25]; L’Italiana in Algeri [8:05]; Semiramide [12:20]; Guillaume Tell [11:44]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Enrique Batiz (Gazza Ladra); State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra/Enrique Batiz (the rest)
rec. date and place not stated

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 was 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.

John Sheppard