I have been enjoying this series of Rossini’s Overtures from the first Volume. The nagging fear that later volumes might show some drop in the quality of the music or the performance was not realised in the second and third Volumes, and it disappears entirely with this triumphant conclusion to a very enjoyable series.
Volume 1 contained the Overture to Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra subtitled as Il barbiere di Siviglia. As the latter title starts the present disc this might quite reasonably make some potential purchasers of the complete set wonder whether the same recording has been included on both discs. They would however be wrong, as what is heard on the present disc is most certainly the Overture to Rossini’s best known opera, whereas that in Volume 1 was an earlier version of the same music used for the opera concerning Queen Elizabeth I. The differences are not enormous but are significant. Much pleasure can be had in comparing the two versions and wondering at the composer’s reasons for the changes which go beyond those necessitated by changes in the composition of the orchestra.
Pleasure is indeed the right word to describe listening to the whole of the present disc. Although Rossini did tend to adopt various stock formulae in composing his Overtures and also frequently reused material, that did not prevent each of the various pieces here from having its own individual character. Of those included here Ricciardo e Zoraide is probably the furthest from the Rossinian norm, the gentle romanticism of the start breathing a wholly new atmosphere. To my surprise, however, with this Volume as with its predecessors it was possible to listen to the whole disc without any feeling of monotony.
This is no doubt due not only to the quality of Rossini’s invention but also to the quality of the performances – alert and spontaneous sounding, and recorded in a very suitable acoustic. Rossini’s Overtures have been collected in bulk before, but for me this has been by some way the most enjoyable version. If you have been collecting the earlier volumes you will probably simply buy this without waiting for reviews. If you have not this would be a good one to start with, and I would be surprised if you did not follow it with more.
And another review ...
Having enjoyed volumes 1 and 2 of this Rossini overtures series from Naxos it was a pleasure to come across volume 4. Many of the comments I made regarding the first two volumes also apply equally to this new offering. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel so I have repeated some of these comments in this latest review.
Rossini’s overtures have to be delivered with pace and sparkle if they are to make any impact on the listener and on that basis this latest CD is a complete success. There’s nothing studio-bound about this lively music-making. It all fizzes along and the recording is bright, clear, forward and involving. The soundstage evokes a pit in the opera house. Personally I find the brass too reticent, especially the trombones, but the percussion is brilliantly captured and the conductor’s approach to every crescendo and accelerando is satisfyingly manic and exciting. The orchestra sounds like a chamber group and whereas this can benefit clarity of execution - the ensemble playing is simply stunning - you simply don’t get the engulfing thrill of a full-scale orchestra pulling out all the stops in the large climaxes. It’s reminiscent of Marriner’s Rossini overtures collection on Philips.
Il barbiere di Siviglia opens the disc in some style and immediately conjures up the feeling of sitting in the opera house. Individual woodwind solos are spot-on — a very fruity bassoon — and the insistent bass drum makes its presence known without being too vulgar or going over the top. Il Turco in Italia is as good a performance as you are likely to hear and special mention must be made of the horn soloist. The same player is also outstanding in the Sinfonia in E flat as are the woodwind team with some particularly brilliant work from the oboe. The rest of the CD offers some less well known fare but this isn’t a selection of second rate bits and bobs from the cutting room floor. I urge people to buy this volume in order to hear some fine overtures that are overshadowed by their more famous brothers and sisters. At the price you can’t go wrong.
I described volume 1 as being one of those (very) near misses from Naxos. Volume 2 struck me as being more successful but volume 4 is the best of the lot. Although these CDs don’t go to the top of the list they are pretty close to it. They offer refreshing and sparkling performances in dynamic, glittering sound. I hope there are more Naxos issues to come from Christian Benda and his orchestra. Maybe Naxos will bundle these Rossini discs as a specially priced box set. Now that would be a bargain.
Previous review: Brian Wilson
Reviews of earlier releases
Volume 1: John Whitmore ~~ John Sheppard
Volume 2: Raymond Walker ~~ John Sheppard
Volume 3: John Sheppard ~~ Brian Wilson