Intermezzi del Verismo (CD review)

Music of Puccini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano, Cilea, Wolf-Ferrari. Lodovico Zocche, Philharmonisches Orchester Graz. CPO 777 953-2.

Classical music lovers, especially opera fans, already know what intermezzi (or intermezzos) are, but for those who might be a little unclear on the concept, my Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines an intermezzo as "a short dramatic, musical, or other entertainment of light character, introduced between the acts of a drama or opera. Or a short musical composition between main divisions of an extended musical work. Or simply a short, independent musical composition." In the case of this album, we're talking about the first definition.

Further, opera fans will surely already know the meaning of verismo, but, again, the dictionary defines it as "the use of everyday life and actions in artistic works: introduced into opera in the early 1900s in reaction to contemporary conventions, which were seen as artificial and untruthful." Purists may balk at some of the titles included on the program as not being entirely "intermezzi" or pure "verismo," but for most of us the dictionary definitions are broad enough to cover most of the ground here.

The present album provides a dozen intermezzi--some of them quite famous, others not so much--from as many operas, all performed by Lodovico Seiche and the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra. The following is a list of the disc's contents:

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924):
Symphonic Prelude in A
La Tregenda: Act II from Le Villi
Intermezzo: Act III from Manon Lescaut
Intermezzo from Suor Angelica

Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945):
Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana
Intermezzo from L'amico Fritz
Sinfonia from Le maschere

Ruggero Leoncavallo (1858-1919):
Intermezzo from Pagliacci

Umberto Giordano (1867-1948):
Intermezzo: Act II from Fedora

Francisco Cilea (1866-1950):
Intermezzo: Act II from Adriana Lecouvreur

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948):
Intermezzo from I gioielli della Madonna

Italo Montemezzi (1875-1952):
Prelude: Act III L'amore dei Tre Re

Ludovico Zocche
All of the music appears beautifully and sensitively played by Maestro Zocche. What's more, the Graz Philharmonic responds splendidly to his direction; just don't expect them to sound as rich and luxurious as their more illustrious neighbors in Vienna. However, my own reaction was that perhaps Maestro Zocche interpreted the tunes a little too beautifully and sensitively, leaving out some of the passion and fire of the pieces. It is all quite pleasant and relaxing, but it seems to me to omit the spark it needs, particularly if one is calling it "verismo," which ought to indicate a more practical and less Romantic approach.

Nevertheless, more than a few selections stood out as worthy of attention. The opening Preludio, for example, projects a sweet, graceful, lyrical charm. The following La Tregenda is appropriately robust. In neither case, however, did I feel the fire I sometimes find in other performances. But I quibble; Maestro Zocche does a splendid job for the most part.

The intermezzo from Suor Angelica displays a proper tenderness; the familiar music from Cavalleria rusticana is gorgeous if a bit sentimental; the Pagliacci intermezzo seems a tad overdramatic; and so it goes, with my nit-picking all along the way. Let it suffice that you probably won't find the music performed any better than here, not if you're looking for all of it in one place, at any rate.

Finally, I'm not sure for whom the producers of the album intended it. Surely, the dedicated opera fan will already have most if not all of this music already in his or her collection. Lovers classical orchestral music may even have similar discs. I suspect the producers aimed their program more toward casual music listeners looking for tranquil, soothing background music, and the generally placid performances would seem to back up this possibility. Whatever, it's fine music, well enough presented.

Producers Peter Ghiradini and Giovanni Prosdocimi and engineer Peter Ghiradini recorded the music at Oper Graz, Austria in February 2014. As with many other CPO recordings over the years, this one sounds quite nice. There is good clarity and definition, good orchestral depth, and fairly wide frequency and dynamic ranges. Imaging is neither too close nor too distant. In short, it's a first-class recording.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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.

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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