It really is a problem, choosing between these two recordings.
(Giordano: Andrea Chénier / Pavarotti, Caballé, Chailly)
It might seem sensible to start with the tenor in the title-role, and here my strong inclination would be to plump for RCA and Domingo: he is in splendid voice, with a touch of nobility to his manner that makes for a convincing portrayal of a poet. Pavarotti (for Chailly on Decca) begins with a rather leather-lunged Improvviso, but he later finds poetry in the role as well, especially when responding to his soprano, Caballe who is rather stretched by the more exhausting reaches of her role and sounds audibly grateful for the occasional opportunities he gives her to float rather than belt a high-lying phrase. And besides, Pavarotti is an Italian tenor, and his Italianate sense of line adds 1 per cent or so of elegance to some phrases that even Domingo cannot match. Caballe does many things beautifully, and her fine-spun pianissimos and subtle shadings only occasionally sound mannered, but the role is undeniably half-a-size too big for her. So it is for Scotto, you might say, and a hint of strain is audible once or twice, in her timbre rather than her phrasing. It is her phrasing, indeed, that tips the balance back to RCA: Scotto is as subtle a vocalist as Caballe, but she gives meaning and eloquence to every phrase without ever breaking the long line, which one cannot always say of the Spanish soprano. Matters are about even as far as the baritones are concerned: Milnes acts admirably, but refrains from over-acting, and the voice is rich and characterful. Nucci for Chailly is a bit less compelling dramatically, but the voice strikes me as more integrated, more even, than Milnes's, and thus, again, is more Italianate in its line. Decca field a sumptuous supporting cast (Astrid Varnay, worn of voice but full of character as the Countess, Christa Ludwig, no less, in the ten lines of Madelon's part, Tom Krause as a fine Roucher, Giorgio Tadeo an implacable Mathieu), but RCA's striking Bersi, vividly characterized Irtcredibile, and their Roucher, too, are not outmatched (only their Madelon, both fruity and acid—a grapefruit of a voice—is disappointing). A lot of people will enjoy the huge energy and bustle of Levine's direction. It is vividly characterful, but to my taste a shade exhausting and over-assertive. The flow of the music seems more natural in Chailly's hands, and orchestral detail is clearer. The Decca recording, too, is warmer than the RCA, which has a slight edge to it. Even so, for Scotto's sake and to a slightly lesser extent for Domingo's, I think I would choose RCA, but that would mean rejecting Chailly, Pavarotti and the Decca recording … As I say, it is really a problem.
-- Michael Oliver, Gramophone [9/1989]