Rossini: Complete Overtures, Vol. 4 - Il barbiere di Siviglia; Il Turco in Italia; Sinfonia in E flat; Ricciardo e Zoraide; Torvaldo e Dorlis
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The fourth and final release in this series of Giacomo Rossini's complete overtures. Includes the overtures to Il barbiere di Siviglia and Il Turco in Italia, among other works. The Prague Sinfonia Orchestra is led by conductor Christian Benda.
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In fairness Marriner includes the brief introduction to the incidental music to Edipo a Colono and the spurious if melodic overture to Il Viaggio a Reims, both of which are not included in the Naxos compilation. (For the record the so called overture to Viaggio was culled from the ballet music from Le Siege de Corinthe by unknown hands.) Incidentally neither set includes the introductions to the various cantatas composed by Rossini. One additional plus for Marriner concerns the fact that he includes the reprise of the march theme and opening chorus that follows the lengthy introduction to Ricciardo e Zoraide. This brings the piece to its rightful conclusion. Benda leaves us hanging in the lurch as he ends the piece in an unsatisfyingly abrupt manner.
Those who have read my previous reviews of this series know of my enthusiasm based on the fact that the pieces are all given very theatrical readings as opposed to the relative suaveness of Marriner and the fact that many of the scores used by Marriner are based on unauthentic editions... two examples being L'Italiana in Algeri and La Gazza Ladra. True they might not replace some old favorites and it might be wise to supplement this set with the classic versions of Toscanini or perhaps another favorite conductor. However, likewise many of those readings, and especially those predating 1980 are often also based on corrupt scores. Most of what is recorded here takes advantage of more up-to-date scholarship.
In summary, this final installment gives dynamic readings that will give your woofers quite a workout. In addition, the passages involving trombones penetrate deeply and excitingly through the orchestral fabric. A major disappointment is the absence of what has been noted above as missing. Furthermore, there certainly was more than enough room for all to have been included. For those who don't have Marriner this is probably the better bet. For those who do, and I can certainly appreciate Marriner's alternative approach as being valid, this set will give additional insight into these miniature symphonic gems.
(Addendum: Regarding my rating, I really would like to downgrade this set at the very least a half star star for what is missing. However, since that omission is not a sin of commission I am 'rounding off' my rating of four and a half stars to a full five.)
In The Barber of Seville we get a typically robust, responsive reading from Maestro Benda. As it is a lively comic opera, the overture follows suit, with Benda providing a good dose of smart theatrics, yet without in any way exaggerating the music. While I still wouldn't say I liked his interpretation any better than those I mentioned above, when you consider that it comes with a full complement of more-obscure overtures, it might find a home with dedicated Rossini fans.
Likewise, The Turk in Italy is a comic affair, and Benda treats it so. If anything, he plays up the contrasts even more in this one than he did in The Barber, making it another delight, frolicsome and energetic.
And so it goes: eight selections, two of them familiar and six of them less so. For example, the Sinfonia in E flat Major dates from Rossini's student days, but he reused it several times over in other overtures. It's actually quite charming in its original version, and Benda appears to make the most of it.
The other items include Riccardo e Zoraide, Torvaldo e Dorliska, Armida, Le Comte Ory, and Bianca e Falliero. Of them, Armida pleased me the most with its steady march rhythms, which Benda emphasizes slowly and dramatically before the action starts later in the piece.
The Prague Sinfonia Orchestra, a smallish group in their performances here, judging by the booklet picture of them, sound both rich and crisp in their presentation. They seem an ideal ensemble for the likes of Rossini and his music.
The sound is very clean, with little overhang or veiling, yet there is a small degree of hall resonance, too. The miking is fairly close, revealing a modest degree of inner detail and reproducing a healthy dynamic range and impact. Bass and treble extension are pretty good as well, making this another deserving sonic entry in Benda's Rossini series.
So, is Benda's Rossini complete set worth the price of four discs? I'd say yes, at least for the listener wanting more than the standard fare. Marriner's competing earlier set fits on three discs but isn't quite as thorough as Benda's, which includes darn near every overture and introduction Rossini wrote. What's more, even though some other conductors may be more colorful, more dynamic, or more refined in the material, Benda provides thoughtful, unobjectionable performances. Then add in the sturdy, modern sound, and, yeah, I'd say it's a worthy set.