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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Overtures and Preludes
Philharmonia Zurich/Fabio Luisi
rec. 2017, Goetheanum, Dornoch
Booklet included (German, English, French)
PHILHARMONIA RECORDS PHR0109 [62:97 + 64:47]

When Fabio Luisi became General Music Director of the Zurich Opera in 2012 he inherited an orchestra well versed in the core nineteenth-century Italian repertoire. For 60 years, Nello Santi has thrilled and delighted Zurich audiences with his performances of Italian bel canto and verismo operas. He, perhaps more than any other person, is responsible for the highly cultivated sound and authentic Italianate zest that the orchestra brings to this repertoire. Judging from this recording of overtures, preludes and ballet music from Verdi’s operas, Zurich is in the enviable position of having Maestro Luisi in the pit to carry on the tradition.

Verdi’s development as an opera composer is detailed in the interview with Luisi contained in the program booklet. The bright, bouncy overture to Un giorno di regno, dating from 1840, could easily be mistaken for one from some obscure Rossini or Donizetti opera. By the time of Nabucco however, which premiered just two years later, Verdi had found his own voice and could create drama through orchestration and his unparalleled sense of timing. Focusing ever more on the dramatic core of the plots of his operas, the overtures and preludes would all but disappear over time. There is nothing of this nature from either Otello or Falstaff to record.

Some of these pieces are concert hall staples, especially the overtures to La forza del destino and I vespri siciliani, or are heard in the opera house, but some are not. It is unlikely that you are going to hear ‘Le Ballet de la Reine’ from Act III of Don Carlos in a performance of the sprawling original French version of the opera. (You can however, currently find it programmed in the concerts of star soprano Diana Damrau and her husband bass Nicolas Testé as they tour the world.) Verdi himself jettisoned the overture to Aida before the opera’s Cairo premiere; he had basically let his imagination run wild with the symphonic opportunities inherent in the plot. It is fascinating, however, to hear the familiar thematic material played only by instruments.

The Philharmonia Zürich plays Verdi regularly; even some of the less often heard operas such as I masnadieri, Il corsaro, Luisa Miller and Stiffelio have been staged in the last decade. Their familiarity with the style is heard in the sense of drama that the orchestra brings to the music as well as in the solo playing. The solo clarinet, oboe and trumpet make the beloved melody from Nabucco sing as beautifully as does the finest chorus. The cello solo in the overture to I masnadieri is another example of absolutely stunning playing. There are many others.

When the full orchestra plays, the sound is glorious. Luisi masterfully contrasts the violence and delicacy in Verdi’s music, where the pauses are as integral to the drama as is the fiercest fortissimo. The clarity of the orchestra texture permits the woodwinds to play with particular deftness, as heard in the overture to Giovanna d’Arco. Verdi frequently used the horns for special dramatic effect and Philharmonia Zurich’s are as fine as they come.

In keeping with the spirit of Verdi the selections are not presented in chronological order, but rather presented to permit their contrasting styles and lengths make the greatest dramatic impact. For Verdi enthusiasts, this recording is a welcome opportunity to have the bulk of the composer’s orchestral music from his operas in one set. Even if you are not an opera fan however, this recording delivers the full impact of Verdi the dramatist without a single note being sung. That alone should make it a valuable addition to the catalogue for some.

Rick Perdian

Disc contents
Overture to Act I La forza del destino (1862) [7:52]
Prelude Aida (1871) [11:37]
‘Le Ballet de la Reine’ from Act III Don Carlos (1867) [17:03)
Overture to Act I Un ballo in maschera (1859) [4:08]
Overture to Act I I vespri siciliani (1855) [8:52]
Overture to Act I La traviata (1853) [4:35]
Overture Stiffelio (1850) [10:10]
Overture Luisa Miller (1849) [5:45]
Overture La battaglia di Legnano (1849) [9:31]
Prelude Il corsaro (1848) [2:60]
Prelude I masnadieri (1847) [5:06]
Overture Macbeth (1847) [3:25]
Overture Giovanna d’Arco (1845) [7:42]
Overture to Act I Ernani (1844) [2:51]
Overture Jérusalem (1847) [5:30]
Overture to Act I Nabucco (1842) [7:12]
Overture Un giorno di regno, ossia Il finto Stanislao (1840) [5:25]
Overture Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio (1839) [6.55]

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