The Italian Intermezzo - Music Without Words
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur (1902) [2:46]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Edgar (1889) Preludes to Act I [4:26] and to Act III [3:57]
Manon Lescaut (1893) [4:56]
Suor Angelica (1918) [3:36]
Alfredo CATALANI (1854-1893)
Loreley (1876 rev 1889) [5:51]
La Wally (1892) – 2 intermezzi (preludes to Act 3 Intermezzo [4:00]; Act 4 Intermezzo [6:31])
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)
Siberia (1903) [3:59]
Fedora (1898) [2:25]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)
La Gioconda (1876) [8:54]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
L’Amico Fritz (1890/91) [4:53]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata (1852-3 rev 1854) [3:21]
Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI (1876-1948)
I Quattro Rusteghi (1904-5) [3:25]
Jewels of the Madonna (1911) [4:29]
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)
I Pagliacci (1892) [3:30]
BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, England, August 2008, November 2009, March and December 2010. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10634 [72:32]

Definition: Intermezzo. The term has passed through a number of meanings since the 16th century but nowadays, in the context of opera, it is recognised as a short orchestral interlude inserted to denote a passage of time. It often serves to remind the audience of what has happened previously and possibly to hint at what is to come in the succeeding scene or act. In respect of the music on this CD the term ‘intermezzo’ is often interchangeable with the term Prelude (eg. Prelude to Act II or III).

The Manon Lescaut intermezzo illustrates this principle very well. It is placed between Acts II and III and carries the drama over from the passions of the second act. There Manon seduces the disillusioned De Grieux back to her side before showing once again her greed and thievery. This causes her to be arrested and their Act III arrival at Le Havre to face deportation. Noseda’s reading is rousing enough but it lacks the passion and intensity that Chailly brings to this marvellous intermezzo in his complete recording of Manon Lescaut.

Three further Puccini intermezzi are included. Two come from Puccini’s early opera, Edgar. The Prelude to Act I begins in rich delicacy, a serene landscape that soon clouds over with ominous foreboding. The Prelude to Act III is a funeral march for Edgar who has fallen in battle. The long-spanned luxuriant theme is typical of the composer – one of the first of Puccini’s memorable melodies. The intermezzo for Suor Angelica (the central one-act opera of Puccini’s Il Trittico) speaks eloquently of the cloistered sanctity of the convent and the personal unhappiness of Suor Angelica since having to give up her illegitimate child.

Adriana Lecouvreur begins in what might be a softly lit romantic dreamscape, all flowers and fluttering birds until passion overcomes serenity. Noseda paints a lovely, wistfully poignant picture for an opera that has its heroine dying after smelling flowers that had been poisoned by a rival to her lover.

Alfredo Catalani’s opera Loreley was inspired by the well-known German legend. ‘The Dance of the Water Nymphs’ is a vivid, witty evocation of their quicksilver darting through the water. The slower music at its centre is ballet-like. The whole nods rather more towards the Germanic style of composition rather than the Italian. Amilcare Ponchielli is represented by ‘The Dance of the Hours’ from La Gioconda the opera concerning the eternal fight between good and evil. It is indelibly associated with Walt Disney’s Fantasia and pointed here with subtle wit and restrained daintiness.

Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo are inextricably associated with their hit operas, Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci so it was a wise choice to include another intermezzo to widen our appreciation. Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz set in the Alsace countryside is a tale of love and misunderstandings amongst the vineyards. It all ends happily even though the rather pessimistic music might hint otherwise. Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci intermezzo is poignantly human clearly speaking of the clown’s emotional turbulence and forecasting the opera’s violent, tragic climax.

Umberto Giordano’s Prelude to Act II of his opera Siberia chills to the bone. Full of icy dread, you can feel winter gales lashing around the Siberian labour camp; however the winds seem unable to break the spirit of its hapless prisoners. Giordano’s sumptuous writing for strings and harp lifts his Intermezzo to Act II of Fedora.

The well-known Prelude to Act II of Verdi’s La Traviata speaks haltingly and poignantly preparing us for the death of Violetta. Noseda’s heartfelt and sympathetic reading is unashamedly romantic.

Alfredo Catalani is further represented by two prelude intermezzi to acts III and IV from his opera La Wally. The opera’s story is set in the Austrian Tyrol where the free-spirited but vulnerable Wally is in love with the handsome Giuseppe Hagenbach, the son of her father's implacable enemy. This leads to the inevitable disastrous conclusion in which the poor girl throws herself into a glacier. The first Prelude opens in exquisite serenity, almost a quietly stated minuet before the music grows restless and agitated reflecting the heroine’s turbulent emotions. The other Prelude is gloomier and despairing. Lonely and depressed, Wally has climbed into the mountains above the village. Her only friend, Walter, has followed and urges her to come down for the Christmas festivities and reminds her of the dangers of avalanches. She sends him away and contemplates her imminent death. The music captures all this drama and emotion and the high-mountain atmosphere.

Finally two intermezzi of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari. First the gentle and witty intermezzo from I Quattro Rusteghi Better-known is his famous intermezzo from Jewels of the Madonna, an opera of Neapolitan jealousy and revenge. But what is generally known as the Intermezzo or at least what this reviewer always recognised as the Intermezzo since his youth and shown as such on this YouTube link is not included here. Instead we have a lesser jewel though it does have its dramatic and atmospheric moments. Chandos have already included this well-known piece as the Serenata from Jewels of the Madonna on a separate CD devoted to Wolf-Ferrari’s music CHAN 105111. What a shame it was not accommodated on the CD as well.

Generally these are magical, uninhibited heart-on-sleeve performances delivered in the very best Chandos sound.

Ian Lace

Magical, uninhibited heart-on-sleeve performances delivered in the very best Chandos sound.