Notes and Editorial Reviews
Claudio Abbado is one of the more enigmatic conductors still working–a micro-manager whose youthful fire seems to have been replaced by mere fussiness, as often as not. Fortunately, Rossini was as obsessive as Abbado (he actually dictated the distance between the players and their music stands), and his music sparkles when given the attention to details of articulation, phrasing, rhythm, and dynamics that Abbado lavishes on it here. These are four outstanding recordings, excellently sung and beautifully recorded, and with a bonus disc of overtures the result constitutes a cornerstone of any Rossini collection. The operas in brief:
1. The Barber of Seville (Prey, Berganza, Alva, Dara); this excellent recording features Hermann Prey as a warm and amiable Figaro, and Teresa Berganza’s highly acclaimed Rosina. A strong supporting cast and the London Symphony in excellent form make this performance a joy from start to finish.
2. Le Cenerentola (Berganza, Guglielmi, Zannini, Alva, Capecchi); Abbado deserves credit for revealing to the world what a great opera this is (many believe it’s a finer work than Barber–and I agree). Abbado also made an excellent video of the work, with Frederica von Stade in the title role, but Berganza is just as fine.
3. The Italian Woman in Algiers (Baltsa, Raimondi, Dara, Lopardo, Pace, Gonda, Corbelli). Agnes Baltsa never made a finer recording. She had almost impossible competition in the incomparable Marilyn Horne on Erato, but Baltsa makes the role very much her own, bringing a warmth and sexiness to Isabella that’s totally convincing. Her concluding cabaletta in “Cruda sorte!” (sound clip) gives Horne a good run for her money. Having the Vienna Philharmonic on hand is no small advantage too.
4. Il viaggio a Reims (Ricciarelli, Valentini Terrani, Cuberli, Gasdia, Araiza, Gimenez, Nucci, Raimondi, Ramey, Dara); The great Rossini discovery of modern times, Abbado assembled an all-star cast for this premiere recording, then jumped ship to Sony and did it all over again, with some of the same singers. It was ridiculous, and a telling sign of the insanity that overtook the classical music industry in the 90s. This is still the version to own.
The performances of the overtures (Barber, Cinderella, Semiramide, The Italian Woman in Algiers, William Tell, La scala di seta, La gazza ladra) are as good as it gets, and the duplicated items clearly reveal the influence of modern scholarship and the period performance movement in the handling of the orchestra (here, The Chamber Orchestra of Europe). Abbado has never done anything better.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com