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David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2017

Over a period of three years, Naxos have issued four discs of Rossini’s overtures, and, I venture to think, are the only ones currently available in a complete release. Presented in a cardboard slipcase, each disc is complete with programme notes where they recall that the composer totally dominated Italian for twenty years in the early 19th century, often working against an almost impossible deadline for completion of a commission. Rossini then resorted to recycled music so that many of his overtures had nothing to do with the story that followed. The most bizarre example came with the one used to prologue the highly charged story of the English monarch Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra—which had already seen service as the overture to Aureliano in Palmira—and then ended up as the well-known opening to his frothy comedy, Il barbiere di Siviglia. There is a similarity that runs throughout, his use of a long string crescendo becoming a trademark that can become repetitive in these discs. When both the time and inclination were present he wrote sparkling scores, many having passed into the repertoire as overtures to symphony concerts, La gazza ladra and Guillaume Tell being the most popular, with Semiramide, a piece of symphonic length a masterpiece in bringing together themes from the major moments of the opera. Making the title, Complete Overtures, definitive, three orchestral ‘Sinfonias’, together with the Grand’overtura ‘obbligata a contrabbaso’ are also included. Working in small Italian opera houses where orchestral resources were limited, Rossini wrote for the size and scope of the Prague Sinfonia, who play excellently for their chief conductor, Christian Benda. The release does include a small chorus of Trojan prisoners for Ermione, and through all four discs the sound has the feel of coming straight from the theatre. Most strongly recommended. © 2017 David’s Review Corner

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