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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1793)
Le nozze di Figaro (1783) [153.06]
Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) – Countess; Eberhard Waechter (baritone) – Count; Giuseppe Taddei (baritone) - Figaro; Anna Moffo (soprano) – Susanna; Dora Gatta (soprano) – Marcellina; Ivo Vinco (bass) – Bartolo; Fiorenza Cossotto (mezzo) – Cherubino; Renato Ercolani (tenor) - Basilio, Curzio; Piero Cappuccilli (bass) – Antonio; Elisabetta Fusco (soprano) – Barbarina; Gillian Spencer and Diana Gillingham (sopranos) – Bridesmaids
Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, September and November 1959
MAJOR CLASSICS M3CD304 [3 CDs: 41.54 + 44.40 + 66.21]
 
This is a reissue, presumably transferred from the original four LPs, of the celebrated Giulini EMI stereo recording issued in 1961 which has now come out of copyright. In its day it was justly famous, with a generally excellent cast and Guilini less soft-centred than he later became. In later years we have had many superb readings of this ever-popular score, some of which are more historically informed; but the sound of this performance is never over-laden with romantic heaviness and the interpretation that the singers bring to their roles remains as fresh as ever.
 
This set retains the traditional ordering of the items in Act Three, where it has more recently been maintained that Mozart’s original scheme, which was altered to accommodate the double casting at the première of the same singer in the roles of Basilio and Curzio, should be adopted. What is more serious is the cutting of the two incidental arias for Marcellina and Basilio in the final Act. Although these had been included in EMI’s earlier Glyndebourne set under Gui - reprehensibly cut again for the CD reissue - it does not appear that Giulini ever recorded these – at least, I can find no reference to the matter in any of the original reviews of the LPs to which I have access.
 
When they transferred the set to CD, EMI managed to cram the complete recording onto two CDs, but this necessitated making a break in the Act Two finale which disturbed the dramatic continuity of this extended movement. Those who are concerned about this should certainly consider investing in this new transfer, which by employing three CDs avoids this problem. The sound is certainly as good as on EMI’s original 1990 CD issue – I have not heard the later reissues from 2006 and 2013 – but the latter may well have been subject to further re-mastering, and coming as they do on two discs rather than three may also have a price advantage. Be warned however that Major insert a slight pause in the Act Two finale - presumably corresponding to an original LP side break - at the same point that EMI make their break between CDs. Although not as ruinous as a similar misjudgement in their transfer of the Solti Tristan which I reviewed recently, this remains a minor annoyance which rather obviates the point of giving us the finale complete on one side.
 
Most of the artists here are well-known quantities, and many prospective purchasers will have their own views on the interpretations. Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is her usual perceptive self as the Countess, pointing her words with her accustomed care and with plenty of sparkle in the recitatives. Some may find her enunciation over-precious, but her creamy tone remains a constant pleasure to hear. So also does the voice of the young Anna Moffo, who has all the required charm for the role of the would-be bride, and Giuseppe Taddei is a darkly menacing Figaro as well as an ebulliently chirpy one. Eberhard Waechter is saturnine as the Count, Fiorenza Cossotto a feminine but very winning page, and the small roles are all efficiently taken with the young Piero Cappuccilli making a surprise cameo as the old gardener. Giulini may be rather slow by modern standards in the more emotional numbers, but better this approach than brisk efficiency. The harpsichord continuo - no truck with fortepiano here - is nicely characterised by Helmut Schmidt.
 
The original mid-price EMI reissue came with full libretto and translation – I presume that their latest reissue does not – but new purchasers should be warned that this Major set comes with only a single page of notes by John Kehoe, more than half of which consists of biographies of the principal artists. They should therefore be prepared to look elsewhere for a detailed synopsis of the plot and for Lorenzo da Ponte’s words. The back cover of the set - and one of the discs - contain an illustration taken from a modern production of Figaro which clearly post-dates the performance contained on this recording by some forty years. With the noted reservations, this remains one of the best recordings of Figaro in the catalogues and in one version or another should be in the collection of everyone who loves the delectable score. The way that Giulini handles the closing scene of reconciliation is sheerly beautiful in a way that defeats many later and more classically stylish interpreters.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey

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