La Wally – Prelude to Act III; Prelude to Act IV
Loreley – Intermezzo, Act III
Adriana Lecouvreur – Prelude to Act II
Fedora – Intermezzo, Act II
Siberia – Prelude to Act II
I Pagliacci – Intermezzo
L’Amico Fritz – Intermezzo
La Gioconda – Dance of the Hours
Edgar – Prelude to Act I; Prelude to Act III
Manon Lescaut – Intermezzo, Act III
Suor Angelica – Intermezzo
La traviata – Prelude to Act III
I Quattro Rusteghi – Intermezzo
Jewels of the Madonna – Intermezzo
Recorded 12 November 2009 and (Wolf-Ferrari) 5 & 6 August 2008 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2010
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10634
Duration: 73 minutes
As part of its January 2011 releases, Chandos has a couple of BBC Philharmonic issues that are pivotal to the orchestra’s history of Principal Conductors – this one, The Italian Intermezzo, led by Gianandrea Noseda, the BBC Phil’s soon-to-be outgoing chief, and a disc devoted to the music of Gabriel Pierné under his successor, Juanjo Mena.
The chopping-board has been at work for the entr’actes (“music without words”, as Chandos soubriquets this production – yes, but it always was!) from these glorious Italian operas, some of the scores indispensable, some less-familiar but no-less enticing. The listing may be bland (a prelude here, an intermezzo there) but the variety is extensive and every piece is a gem; so however interlude-intentioned or act-starting, each example is self-sufficient in atmosphere, characterisation and scene-setting – and so very ripe on their own terms.
Although the recorded sound is agreeably opulent and vivid, a brickbat must be mentioned concerning the layout of the disc’s contents when set against Christopher Cook’s scholarly note for the booklet. Cook – in establishing his premise that orchestral intermissions, and preludes to later acts, came quite late to Italian composers of opera but then became the norm – discusses the chosen pieces in chronological order; a shame then that the music proceeds in an arrangement that is different to Cook’s analysis.
Nevertheless, the assortment is pure pleasure, a must for any fan of high-emotion Italian opera who might sometimes fancy a snack instead of the complete operatic banquet. Thus we have something chastely beautiful from “Adriana Lecouvreur”, the expressive grace-notes and full-on passion of “Manon Lescaut” and – a different side of Puccini’s art – the radiance of “Suor Angelica” (cloisters and innocence suggested yet with soaring strings looking ahead to Mantovani’s orchestra), and also the drama incarnate of “Edgar” (which stirs the red corpuscles). The gravely beautiful (if ominous) chords of “L’Amico Fritz” suggest the full opera should be explored. Or, you might fancy the danse macabre of the “Loreley” snippet; certainly elegant as befits water nymphs, but something sinister is afoot, only a hint though, for Catalani wasn’t that keen on going down the verismo road, something that the graceful selections from “La Wally” confirm; yet, make no mistake, Catalani is no slouch when milking dramatic situations: the Prelude to Act Four simmers with dark deeds.
Giordano’s “Siberia” rarely appears – a great quiz question (“… for ten points, who wrote the opera Siberia?”) – therefore the eerie Prelude to Act Two, suggesting an inhospitable place and with a quotation from “Song of the Volga Boatmen”, is a vodka-soaked surprise to which ‘Dance of the Hours’ offers great contrast, its delicate-fantastical qualities teased out with affection by Noseda but with no lack of ardency and scintillation when required; and it’s good to be reminded of things-original in the light of Allan Sherman’s early-1960s’ hit comic song “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” that borrowed shamelessly from Ponchielli’s handiwork. The ground is familiar for the Prelude to Act Three of “La traviata”, the fragility of Violetta’s health tactfully expressed.
Some disappointment might be registered that the two Wolf-Ferrari selections are taken from a previously released Chandos disc devoted to that composer’s music (link below to Classical Source’s review) – yet the loveliness of “I Quattro Rusteghi” is captivating and “Jewels of the Madonna” is Mediterranean soulfulness at its best; it’s simply that there must be other operatic gateways that could have been chosen such as the Prelude to Act One of “La traviata”, which is a surprising omission given its Act Three companion is included. Nevertheless, one crumbles when “I Pagliacci” gets into its heartfelt stride, and “Fedora” also reaches those receptive parts that maybe only Italian composers of this era knew how to transport.
It takes one to know one, thus Gianandrea Noseda conducts these titbits as a labour of love and is fully appreciative of these composers’ shared methods and – more importantly – their distinctions. Anyone new to Romantic Italian Opera will enjoy a sampler par excellence and those who adore the full works will relish this tasty nibbling of their wonderful qualities.