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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Overtures
La scala di seta [6:23]
Il signor Bruschino [4:47]
Il barbiere di Siviglia [7:15]
La Cenerentola [8:19]
Semiramide [12:08]
La Siège de Corinthe [9:08]
Guillaume Tell [11:34]
Andante e tema con variazione (1812) [10:07]
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Sir Antonio Pappano
rec. Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome, Feb 2008-Mar 2014
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 624344 [69:53]

There is a lot of fun to be had on this disc and often more than that. It’s a very good idea to present this selection of Rossini overtures in chronological order and it brings more benefits than you would think. One of the most obvious is a clear line of development in the composer’s style from the skittish lightness of his early successes through to the large-scale effects of his later Parisian works.
 
Under Pappano, the Santa Cecilians have already shown how well they can play Rossini’s music and they repeatedly show that again on this disc. There is a beautiful lightness to the strings in La Scala di Seta, as they scamper all over both the introduction and the main theme. The chattering winds in the main Allegro are very stylish, too and there is a fitting sense of a light-as-a-feather entertainment about to unfold. Similarly, Bruschino's contrast of the gruff and the silly comes across very effectively.
 
The Barber is more extrovert, as if each theme were presenting itself forward for inspection. The winds are especially charming here, and there is more of a sense of an architectural crescendo, too, which Pappano controls with all the experience of the opera house giving him authority. Incidentally, the fact that the drums enter here for first time on disc makes their impact all the larger, another advantage to the chronological approach. There is a lot of wit and brightness in Cenerentola and the crescendo is even more important and even more successful.
 
A new world of drama arrives with Semiramide, however. Its opening is terse and dramatic, giving way to the delicious duet for the horns and then an allegro that bristles with both tension and excitement. Pappano's rhythmic vigour is all over this and brings it to life brilliantly. The players, too, seem to find a new sense of purpose, and the brass runs, in particular, are fantastic. A new sound appears for the Grand Opéra world of La Siège de Corinthe, and the extra instrumentation, together with fresh percussive effects, set this overture out as a new departure. Their Guillaume Tell Overture is, as far as I can make out, the same one that they set down for their complete recording, but with the applause edited out.
 
There is an extra treat in the Andante that rounds off the disc. Scored for four wind soloists, it’s a more intimate piece that dates from the same year as La Scala di Seta, and contains hints of the many operatic serenades that the composer would later put on the stage.
 
Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon but, good as is the playing and styling, I left this disc feeling a little undernourished, hoping for a bit more. Pappano and the Santa Cecilians have proved their Rossinian mettle already in their Petite Messe Solennelle, William Tell and, most triumphantly, their Stabat Mater, but those were big works full of variety, heft and structural complexity. So long as you accept that you aren’t going to find much of that here, this is a disc you’ll enjoy.
 
Simon Thompson
 
Previous review: Michael Cookson