Rossini: Overtures (CD review)

William Tell and other overtures. Roy Goodman, The Hanover Band. Newton Classics 8802219.

There isn't exactly a shortage of Rossini overture recordings on the market, but there are surprisingly few of them done on period instruments in historically informed performances. For the past couple of decades the two leading contenders in this specialized field have been Roy Goodman's recording with the Hanover Band, reissued here by Newton Classics, and Roger Norrington's renditions with the London Classical Players on EMI (now Warner Classics). Of the two, Norrington is probably the more refined, more cultured, but I've never been entirely sure that was what every prospective buyer of a period-instruments recording wanted. Goodman's accounts appear just as well played but a bit more rustic and bucolic. It's good to have them back in this mid-priced release.

Goodman provides seven of Rossini's most-famous overtures including La scala di seta ("The Silken Ladder"), L'Italiana in Algeri ("The Italian Girl in Algiers"), Il barbiere di Siviglia ("The Barber of Seville"), La gazza ladra ("The Thieving Magpie"), Semiramide, Le siege de Corinthe ("The Siege of Corinth"), and Guillaume Tell ("William Tell"). It's interesting to note that most of Rossini's overtures have become more popular and receive more performances than the operas from which they come.

Anyway, the program begins with La scala di seta, which pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the selections. Not only do we hear the characteristic sound of a period ensemble, especially from the strings and percussion, but we get tempos that seem neither exaggerated nor tedious. In fact, they always sound just right, with any variations needed to provide contrast. What's more, the orchestra play with admirable virtuosity and zeal, and the audio engineers capturing them in a well-balanced manner. This is a far cry from some shrill, raggedy-Annie period performances with claims to historical accuracy at the expense of listenability.

And so it goes throughout the program. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic impact in L'Italiana in Algeri, the spirited enthusiasm in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and those blazing timpani in La gazza ladra. Goodman's performances are bold yet pleasingly stylish, providing thrills and thought in equal measure.

Which brings us to the William Tell overture, whose celebrated closing galop ("March of the Swiss Soldiers") stirred every kid's imagination in The Lone Ranger. The piece begins with three sections describing the prelude to a storm, the storm itself, and the calm following the storm. Goodman handles these segments in appropriately colorful interpretations, the storm getting a remarkably blustery treatment. And that final heroic galop? While it may not convey all the visceral excitement of some other renditions, it should prove gracefully enduring.

Producer Andrew Keener and engineer Tony Faulkner recorded the music originally for RCA (BMG Classics) at Abbey Road Studios, London, in 1994, and Newton Classics reissued it in 2014. In terms of sonic quality, naturalness and clarity are the orders of the day. Definition sounds commendable and dynamics are wide and strong, while an overall smoothness ensures that the proceedings go as realistically as possible. A modest hall resonance helps, along with a moderately distanced miking arrangement. Additionally, there is a fair amount of orchestral depth and spaciousness to add to the illusion. It makes for an appealing audio experience, maybe not quite as transparent as the sound for Norrington on EMI but not quite as bright or aggressive, either.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa