Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Complete Overtures - Volume 1
La gazza ladra[9:50]; Semiramide [12:27]; Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra [7:28];
Otello [8:34]; Le siège de Corinthe [9:34]; Sinfonia in D, "al Conventello" [4:03];
Ermione* [8:08]
*Prague Philharmonic Choir, Prague Sinfonia Orchestra/Christian Benda
rec. 5-6 September 2011, Kulturni Dum Barikadniku, Prague, Czech Republic
NAXOS 8.570933 [60:04]
Rossini’s overtures have to be delivered with pace and sparkle if they are to make any impact on the listener. This collection, volume 1 of a projected complete collection on 4 CDs, succeeds admirably on that count. The music-making fizzes along and the recording is bright, clear, forward and involving. There’s not a great deal of deep bass and little dynamic range to be heard but it’s all great fun to listen to. The soundstage conjures up a pit in the opera house.

La Gazza Ladra opens with an arresting side-drum roll that leaps from the speakers. The ensuing introduction is marred by horn playing that is, shall we say, not the most secure. The main body of the work is terrific with outstanding contributions from the woodwind soloists and a cheeky, penetrating piccolo. Percussion is bright and the strings have tremendous presence with violins dominating to the detriment of the cellos. There are, unfortunately, two irritants. Firstly - where is the brass section? The trombones sound as if they are in a box at the rear of the stage and they hardly register at all. Ditto the trumpets but to a lesser extent. This means that the climaxes aren’t as telling as they should be. Secondly, the famous use of the crescendo by Rossini is watered down by the absence of a true piano at the beginning of the passages where crescendos are marked. Crescendos start at mf and end up at f. This isn’t very satisfying. These observations also apply to the rest of the collection. Are the faults ruinous? No.
Semiramide sets off with a real turn of pace and then settles down for a more relaxed delivery of the horn chorale. The allegro is brilliantly played, again with bright percussion, excellent woodwind and somewhat recessed brass. Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra was recycled later by Rossini as the overture to The Barber of Seville and it’s virtually identical. The horn playing in the introduction is rather clumsy but other than that everything else is well up - on a par with the rest of the collection. The Sinfonia in D, "al Conventello" is new to me but after a brief introduction Rossini is shown to be up to his old tricks again. The tune in the main allegro was recycled at a later date in his overture to Il Signor Bruschino. The Prague Philharmonic Choir helps to bring proceedings to a close with their enthusiastic contribution to Ermione.
This is maybe one of those near misses from Naxos. The disc is very enjoyable but is marred by the small issues I’ve mentioned. Despite these reservations, the CD augurs well for future releases in the series.  

John Whitmore

Bright and breezy but not quite an outright winner.