Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Complete Overtures - Volume 1
La Gazza Ladra [9:50]; Semiramide [12:27]; Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) [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. Kulturni Dů Barikádníků, Prague, 5-6 September 2011
text and translation (Ermione) included
NAXOS 8.570933 [60:04]
The Prague Sinfonia Orchestra and Christian Benda have already recorded the complete Overtures of Schubert for Naxos on two well filled and utterly delightful discs (see reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2). It was an obvious step to move next to the complete Overtures of Rossini which so obviously inspired Schubert. I am happy to say that this disc has many of the same very successful features of its predecessors. 

There is much more competition this time, including several previous complete sets of the Overtures and many very distinguished selections of those that are most popular. What is perhaps surprising on sampling them is the scope for very different but equally compelling performances that these works offer. From Toscanini to Giulini or Gui, and from Marriner to Norrington there is a very wide range of recorded performances available and it is best simply to enjoy what each approach has to offer rather than solemnly to attempt any overall order of merit. The good news in any event is that Benda stands up well even in this very distinguished company. There is real theatrical vitality in each of these performances, as well as grace and wit in phrasing. All of this is helped by having what sounds like an orchestra that is not too large and by a somewhat dry theatre-like acoustic. The wind and brass are forward but not excessively so and the principals play their many solos with real character.
The booklet has useful notes by Keith Anderson, together with the brief text of the partly sung Overture to “Ermione”. This is possibly the most remarkable work here, with the interjections of the Trojan prisoners within the Overture setting the scene for the opera itself. The other Overtures are more generic, for instance that well known from its inclusion in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” having been written originally for the tragedy of “Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra”. The Overture to “Le siège de Corinthe”, a later work written for Paris, is especially striking with its central Marche lugubre grècque for wind instruments. The least known work here is probably the Sinfonia al Conventello, a brief but delightful early piece using a theme later reused in the Overture to “Il Signor Bruschino”.
All of these, and the other, better known, works, are played with real spirit and style and recorded clearly and cleanly. Some rival collections put the Overtures in chronological order but this did not greatly bother me as I imagine few people will want to listen to all seven works here in succession. This is an admirable start to what looks like being a very desirable series.  

John Sheppard

An admirable start to what looks like being a very desirable series. 

see also review by John Whitmore
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