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Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676)
L’Ormindo (1644, realised by Raymond Leppard)
John Wakefield (tenor, Ormindo)
Peter-Christoph Runge (baritone, Amida)
Isabel Garcisanz (mezzo, Nerillo)
Hanneke van Bork (soprano, Sicle)
Jean Allister (mezzo, Melide)
Hugues Cuénod (tenor, Erice)
Anne Howells (soprano, Erisebe)
Jane Berbié (mezzo, Mirinda)
Federico Davia (bass, Ariadeno)
Richard Van Allan (bass, Osmano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Raymond Leppard
rec. 8 November 1968, Glyndebourne Opera House. ADD.
Text not included. Synopsis only.
ELOQUENCE 4829382 [73:35 + 60:02]

When this recording of L’Ormindo was released, hard on the heels of Raymond Leppard’s performances at Glyndebourne and the Proms, Cavalli’s operas were little known and the release had very considerable novelty value. Add the fact that it was the first complete opera recording there since the war and the interest was even more piqued.

Since Leppard made his own revision and arrangements of Cavalli – he did the same for Cavalli’s La Calisto, also recently reissued on Eloquence (4829400) – much more scholarly editions have appeared, the manuscript is available online, and new recordings have been made, which inevitably raises the question of whether these reissues are still worth considering. Even at budget price, there’s a rival recording of Calisto from René Jacobs on Harmonia Mundi (HMY292151517, currently on offer at £9.93). The Pan Classics L’Ormindo, directed by Jerôme Correas, with Sandrine Piau sounding superb as l’Armonia in the Prologue, is also currently on offer, at £12.70 (PC10330 – review Winter 2017/18_2). If you’re wondering who sang that part for Leppard, the answer is that he excised the Prologue in which the character appears.

A third version, available to download only, on the Datum label, also omits the Prologue and subjects the rest of the opera to other excisions different from but just as serious as those inflicted by Leppard.

Already in 1969, Leppard’s tinkering with the text tempered the reception of the recording, with his view that Cavalli’s bare bones needed to be and were intended to be filled out challenged even then. So, too, was the process whereby the music is smoothed out with a plush sound. At least the original release came complete with the text, as, I believe, did the earlier Decca Serenata CDs, whereas there is none with the Eloquence release. I complained about the lack of texts with the download of the Pan Classics recording but, at least, there is a libretto online. It doesn’t, however, quite match what Leppard gives us, with his many truncations, additions, deviations and transpositions, so we have to rely on the synopsis and the incipits of each track as listed.

The sound world of baroque opera, as we now understand it, is very different from what we hear on this recording, especially from the string section of the LPO. There may not be unanimous agreement on what Cavalli or Monteverdi should sound like, but it certainly should not be what we hear here. It’s not just a matter of the use of modern instruments; even earlier than the late 1960s Thurston Dart was producing a sound much closer to what we now expect to hear with his Philomusica of London. As, too, was Anthony Lewis with the English Chamber Orchestra; the recent Eloquence reissue of their 1965 recording of Rameau’s Hippolyte at Aricie, with Dart providing the continuo, a case in point (4829394).

All that is true, so why do I think there is still a place for this recording for reasons other than pure nostalgia? The main reason must be the quality of the singing: L’Ormindo may not have the advantage of Janet Baker and James Bowman, who appear on La Calisto, but this was a strong cast for the time and remains so. That includes Hugues Cuénod, already 66 when recording L’Ormindo and even older in La Calisto, here reprising his drag act as the nurse Erice. The female parts are especially well sung.

The recording has worn well, but it’s a shame that Decca couldn’t give us the complete libretto – what would it have cost extra to have printed this from the Serenata reissue?

All in all, only outright devotees of authenticity should be warned off. The rest of us should approach with caution, bearing in mind the reservations listed, but the Pan Classics recording would be the safer buy. I'd give a stronger recommendation, too, to the Hippolyte et Aricie reissue mentioned above, if you are looking for just one of the recent Eloquence opera reissues.  Though it, too, is cut and comes without libretto it not only presents a more convincingly ‘baroque’ orchestral sound but has the advantage of Janet Baker and John Shirley-Quirk in the generally strong cast. It and the Cavalli reissues are currently on offer from Presto for £9 each.

In its day, this recording merited three full stars from the Stereo Record Guide, the predecessor of the Penguin Guide. Perhaps two stars would be nearer to the mark for this reissue.

Brian Wilson

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