Mascagni, Rossini, Puccini, Verdi: Operatic highlights - Battistoni
Classical - Opera
Verdi: Overture (La forza del destino); Chorus "Va pensiero" (Nabucco); Prelude to Act I (La traviata); Ballet music & Chorus "Patria oppressa" (Macbeth); Ballet Music & Chorus "Gloria all'Egitto" (Aida)
Puccini: Intermezzo (Manon Lescaut)
Rossini: Overture (William Tell)
Mascagni: Intermezzo (Cavalleria rusticana)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Carlo Felice
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Review by John Broggio - August 9, 2015
I purchased this disc because I saw a set slated for release by these forces of Puccini's Turandot. This prospective complete operatic outing has sadly since been dropped off the release schedule - hopefully not permanently though because this young conductor is evidently a remarkable talent of which I hope to hear (and see) a lot more.
Opening with a trio of Verdi excerpts - the overture & prelude to La forza del destino and La traviata respectively frame a thoroughly musical account of "Va pensiero" from Nabucco - all have the appropriate dramatic tension but all are entirely without the overwrought hysteria with which this emotional music can ensnare both performer and listener all too easily. The orchestra play with real sophistication and sound completely comfortable within the repertoire. The chorus of the Felice sounds a world away from the quasi-HIP accounts we hear from from forays into Verdi from, for example, John Eliot Gardiner - this will delight some listeners as much as it frustrates others.
Next up is the Intermezzo from Act 3 of Puccini's Manon Lescaut; from the solo strings as the initial sustained crescendo builds, Battistoni manages to pace both the drama and the dynamics to perfection; the tonal palette's he coaxes from the orchestra sound at once both completely unforced and entirely convincing. The calm of the Intermezzo's ending gives way to Rossini's overture to William Tell; the cello section acquits itself with real eloquence and Battistoni clearly entrusts these players to make beautiful chamber music with each other. The storm section is no less musical: dramatic, brilliantly exciting but in no way playing to gallery or seeking to be a "sonic spectacular". The cor anglais in the "Ranz des vaches" section is very plaintive but unfortunately doesn't always agree with the tonality of the accompanying strings or its flautist partner in the dialogue. The concluding galop is tremendous: many original touches that are in no way obtrusive but really adds a whole new dimension to what can sound hackneyed in the wrong hands - wonderful stuff indeed.
More Rossini follows, the overture to The barber of Seville; the opening introduction is relatively swift and here the woodwind solos are beyond criticism. The swift tempo also lends a really songlike mood to the violins when they take over the melodic line. The allegro section is also marginally quicker than many but the players of Felice's orchestra don't show it in their phrasing - wonderfully deft and full of shading (this disc is like a "big band" version of Rossini: Famous Overtures for barber of Seville and it is both better conducted and recorded than the equivalent accounts on Rossini: Complete overtures, Vol. 2 - Benda - barber of Seville, Rossini: Complete overtures, Vol. 1 - Benda - William Tell). The atmosphere now takes a calmer atmosphere with the ever popular Intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana - the subtle use of organ here and the avoidance of appealing (purely) to sentimentality gives this frequently heard music a rare freshness.
To end, Battistoni chooses another trio of Verdi excerpts: the ballet music & "Patria oppressa" from Macbeth and 11 minutes from Aida focusing on the grand march. The way that these "war horses" of the operatic repertoire are so nobly delivered is remarkable when one considers that Andrea Battistoni is not yet 30; it is probably not coincidental with the quality of these performances that Battistoni was invited to conduct Attila & Falstaff (when only 24!) to acclaim as part of C major's "Tutto Verdi" project. As before, there is no hint of vulgarity just consummate, exhilarating musicianship throughout. Indeed, the only gripe (from a musical standpoint) is that this is a disc of excerpts not a suite of the full operas themselves!
The sound is, appropriately, on the dry side but gives full rein to the performers and where the material allows, the musicians are allowed some bloom but not as much as might be considered ideal.
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