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CD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

EMI 55018

Plácido Domingo Sings & Conducts

  • Fantasy Overture "Roméo & Juliet" in B minor (1869)
  • Capriccio Italien in A Major, Op. 45 (1880)
  • "1812" Overture in E Flat Major, Op. 49 (1880)
  • None But the Lonely Heart *
  • Lensky's Aria from Yevgeny Onegin *
* Plácido Domingo, tenor
Ofra Harnoy, cello
Philharmonia Orchestra/Plácido Domingo
* Philharmonia Orchestra/Randall Behr
EMI 55018 - 66min
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Although I can't quite believe it now, I actually requested a review copy of this disc. I've admired Domingo's singing for so long that I was anxious to see how he fared as a conductor. My curiosity has now been fully satisfied.

Domingo's Roméo is by far the most sluggish, aimless, and dull recording of this old warhorse that I have yet encountered. Most conductors require only 20 minutes or so for this piece; Domingo plods along for 22:06. While it's true that Bernstein (DG) takes even longer than Domingo, he invests the music with such intense feeling and searing drama that I hardly notice his slower pace. Domingo's Montagues and Capulets, by contrast, come across as crashing bores whose ancient feud could best be described as much ado about nothing. Further, Domingo the conductor - unlike Domingo the tenor - has a severely constricted dynamic range. This can't be blamed on EMI's engineers. The selections conducted by Mr. Behr, not to mention Domingo's own singing, have the wide dynamics typical of most compact discs. Domingo's 1812 is even less impressive. Someone really ought to tell him that this is piece is about war and not a Sunday picnic. The Capriccio gets the most assured and confident rendition of the lot. As in the other selections, Domingo is in no great hurry. And while I do enjoy the pomp and splendor of his colorful interpretation, I must admit that there are far more exciting and gripping versions around (Mravinsky on Russian Disc comes most immediately to mind).

Randall Behr proves himself a superb accompanist in the two vocal items. His conducting is incisive, dramatic, and pointed - indeed, everything that Domingo's is not. Too bad Behr wasn't allowed to lead the other works on this program. Domingo's None But the Lonely Heart, with a lovely cello obbligato by Harnoy, is touching, but he is far less comfortable in Lensky's aria. Compared to Bjoerling's devastating recording (on an RCA LP), Domingo sounds strained and uninvolved. No texts, but there is somehow enough room for not one, but two full color pictures of the gorgeous Ms Harnoy.

Don't be tempted - as I was - by the star power of this great tenor. Save your money for more important things, like Barry Manilow reissues.

Copyright © 1996, Thomas Godell

Trumpet