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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Overtures
La scala di seta (No.6) [6:23]
Il signor Bruschino (No.9) [4:47]
Il barbiere di Siviglia (No.17) [7:15]
La Cenerentola (No.20) [8:19]
Semiramide (No.34) [12:08]
La Siège de Corinthe (No.36) [9:08]
Guillaume Tell (No.39) [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, October 2010, January 2012, March 2014
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 624344 [69:53]

Rossini’s operatic oeuvre started with his student composition Demetrio e Polibio (review). By the time it was staged in 1812 he was nineteen years of age and had already been commissioned, and had staged, three one act farsi at Venice’s Teatro San Moisè (review). During this early period he also presented the longer dramma giocoso in two acts L'equivoco stravagante (A Bizarre Deception) at Bologna. Over a twenty year period until his last opera, Guillaume Tell (review), premiered at the Académie Impériale de Musique, Paris, (The Opéra) on 3 August 1829, Rossini composed thirty-nine operas, including two titles involving radical re-writes in French. Aged thirty-seven he called it a day and never composed another opera despite living until the age of seventy-six. He had become a rich man and after the death of Beethoven in 1827 was widely regarded as the premier composer of his time.

In the accepted manner of the day most, but not all, Rossini’s operatic compositions started with an overture. In the earlier operas, it was the tradition and allowed the audience to settle and chatter. There was no attempt at motif or relating the overture to themes in the opera concerned. Rossini famously recycled overtures; that to Il Barbiere di Siviglia sufficed for three of his works of contrasting comic and seria content. Initially the overtures were in simple sonata-form. However, those for the later works, including his longer operas, particularly Semiramide and William Tell (Trs. 5 and 7), involve the use of crescendo and more complex orchestration. These are characteristic as is the extended length of the overture itself.

In the far-off days of the LP it was only through the names of the overtures that the average listener knew of the breadth of Rossini’s operatic output. Fewer than ten of his operas appeared on LP, including a William Tell in Italian to accommodate Pavarotti, and the start of a mini-series on the Philips label. Of the overtures, there were albums conducted by Reiner, Gamba, Abbado, Muti, Gardelli and Chailly, among others, with the latter recorded digitally by Decca’s renowned team of engineers. We should not forget the four LP set of what was claimed to be the complete lot of the overtures by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, neither party renowned for any presence in the opera house. This was issued on a 3 CD Philips Trio set (4739672). Chailly was to add a second clutch of seven in 1984. These appeared together as a Double Decca in 1995 (443 850-2) and have remained my favourite ever since. None of the sets mentioned were sequenced, as here, in respect of dates of composition and this provides an interesting insight as to Rossini’s compositional development in respect of orchestral texture and structure. This is as illuminating as the length of each of these pieces.

Antonio Pappano, unlike Marriner, is a creature of the theatre and this is reflected in his interpretations with the Italian orchestra he heads here along with his experiences in the post of Musical Director of the Royal Opera House, London. Although he has not, by any means, conducted all these works in the theatre, his feel for the idiom and its place in the composer’s oeuvre is reflected in his realisations, not least in the most famous of all, that for William Tell. Pappano has performed this work in concert (review) and will conduct stage performances in London in 2015. One of these will feature in an HD transmission to cinemas worldwide on 5 July 2015.

The Andante e tema con variazioni in E-Flat Major is an unusual addition to an orchestral disc (tr.8). Scored for wind instruments it is dated 1812, the same year as the overture to La Scala di Sieta. The piece also reminded me of one or two of the pièces d'occasion included in the series of Rossini cantatas conducted by Chailly and issued on Decca in the 1990s (Vol. 2 Decca CD 466 328-2). Maybe Pappano will venture down these byways in future with his Italian orchestra in Rome: one can but hope. I will conclude by strongly commending the performance here of the longest included overture, that to, Semiramide (tr. 5). Premiered at Venice’s La Fenice in February 1823 Semiramide was his thirty-fourth opera and his last operatic composition for Italy. It has its own distinct tinta which is very evident in this performance.

In the heading to this review the numbers by each track refer to the particular sequence in Rossini’s operatic compositions and are mine. None are suggested on the disc, perhaps because of the difficulty of sequencing the re-writes for Paris. Similar problems arise with Verdi’s operatic compositions where there are twenty-eight titles with some authorities claiming there are only twenty-six distinct works; this despite the major additions and rewrites in the two other works concerned.

Robert J Farr

Previous review: Michael Cookson ~~ Simon Thompson