Cimarosa: Overtures, Vol. 4 (CD review)

Michael Halasz, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice. Naxos 8.573459.

The Italian composer Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801) was among the most prolific and in his day most popular composers of the late eighteenth century, probably as popular as Haydn and known to more people than Mozart. Still, life is sometimes unfair, and time has a way of making up for things. Mozart may have died penniless, but today it's obviously his music, not Cimarosa's, that most people recognize and prefer. Meanwhile, with the possible exception of his opera Il matrimonio segeteo, the listening public have largely relegated Cimarosa to the ranks of near obscurity.

Fortunately, the folks at Naxos have been trying their best to keep Cimarosa's name alive with among other things a series of overture recordings, this being the fourth volume and this time with Michael Halasz and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice.

The disc contains nine Cimarosa overtures for a total playing time of just over sixty-six minutes. Here's a rundown of the program:

I sdegni per amore
La finta frascatana
I tre amanti
Le donne rivali
I finti nobili
Il pittore parigino
L'amante combattuto dalle donne di punto, "La Biondolina"
Giunio Bruto
L'amor costante

Michael Halasz
Maestro Halasz's approach to the music sounds suitably refined and appropriately lively. While he doesn't seem quite as persuasively elegant as some conductors of scores from the Baroque or Classical eras (Marriner was among the heads of the class here), he does project a healthy respect for the music and presents the overtures stylishly enough. Also, while Halasz may not seem as exciting as some conductors, he generates a considerable amount of electricity when needed. These are neither hell-bent-for-leather races to the finish line nor staid, overly sedate interpretations. Halasz negotiates a steady, reasonable course that does full justice to the music, and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Pardubice, which numbers about thirty-five or so players, responds splendidly.

All of the overtures are colorful and spirited, but I couldn't help taking special pleasure from La finta frascatana ("The Fake Lady of Frascata"), which not only projects a vigorous mood but has segments of intense beauty, too. The booklet notes tell us that it was I tre amanti ("The Three Lovers") that established Cimarosa's name outside Naples, and one can certainly see why it became so well liked with its rhythmic charm and pleasant lilt. Still, it was the tragedy Giunio Bruto that Haydn most admired, and who conducted it at the Esterhazy court.

Producer Jiri Stilec and engineers Vaclav Roubal and Karel Soukenik recorded the disc at The House of Music, Pardubice, Czech Republic in October 2014. If you have a few of Naxos's better recordings already on your shelf, the sound of this one won't surprise you too much. It's smooth and rounded, almost of audiophile quality, well balanced, natural, nicely defined, and, most important, easy on the ear.

More specifically, the sound is a slight bit closer than usual for a Naxos production, yielding better than average detail and clarity. It also appears more dynamic than a lot of Naxos products, again probably because it's a little more close-up than normal for the company. In any case, as I said above, it sounds just about right for the type of music it's presenting and for a small chamber orchestra.

Overall, with its lustrous performances and high-quality sound, I'd have to say this is one of the best Naxos releases I've heard in while and should make my list of 2017 favorites.

JJP

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


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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