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CD Review

3 Classic Albums

  • Johannes Brahms: Hungarian Dances (#1-#21) *
  • Gioacchino Rossini: Overtures **
  • The Barber of Seville
  • Semiramide
  • L'italiana in Algeri
  • William Tell
  • La Cenerentola
  • La Scala di seta
  • La gazza ladra
  • Giuseppe Verdi: Choruses ***
  • Aïda
  • Gloria all'Egitto
  • tu che sei d'Osiride … Vieni d'Iside al tempio 1
  • Don Carlo "Spuntato ecco il di d'esultanza"
  • Ernani "Si ridesti il Leon di Castiglia"
  • I Lombardi
  • Gerusalem!
  • signore, dal tetto natio
  • Il Trovatore "Anvil Chorus"
  • Macbeth
  • Che faceste? Dite su!
  • Patria oppressa
  • S'allontanarono!
  • Nabucco
  • Gli arredi festivi
  • Va, pensiero
  • Otello "Fuoco di gioia"
  • Requiem
  • Dies Irae
  • Sanctus
  • Tuba Mirum
  • Simon Boccanegra "Maria Maria…Viva Simon" 2
  • Un Ballo in Maschera "Posa in pace"
1 Elena Obraztsova, mezzo-soprano
1 Nicolaï Ghiaurov, bass
2 Piero Cappuccilli, baritone
2 José van Dam, bass-baritone
2 Giovanni Foiani, bass
* Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
** Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Claudio Abbado
*** Chorus of La Scala/Romano Gandolfi
*** Orchestra of La Scala/Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 4792549 3CDs
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With the passing of Maestro Claudio Abbado earlier this year, we lost one of music's most amiable figures. "Everyone calls me Claudio", he remarked upon taking the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic, a quote seen in nearly every music magazine and blog as tributes were paid. If his later work is (generally) inferior to his earlier accomplishments, and if his tenure in Berlin was somewhat unsuccessful, that doesn't take away from the fact that he was a very great musician and man by all accounts. This three-disc set isn't specifically designed as a tribute album, but nonetheless gives a broad overview of his career and his gifts.

Brahms was always an Abbado specialty, and whether in Vienna, Berlin, or elsewhere, his work on behalf of the composer is nearly always worth hearing. This set was commissioned by Deutsche Grammophon for their "Complete Brahms Edition", and became a classic shortly thereafter. The Vienna Philharmonic plays with exquisite beauty, but also much excitement in these popular Hungarian Dances. Having all 21 of them is always a pleasure, and the lesser known works have no shortage of charm. These are difficult works to do wrong by, but Abbado brings both vigor and grace to his end of the bargain. His symphony cycle for DG would be equally successful, and a highlight of his years in Berlin.

The Rossini disc dates from nearly a decade later, but still finds the conductor in excellent form. I actually believed I reviewed the disc previously for Classical Net, but the draft of that review is on a currently retired laptop in Troy, Michigan! No matter. These are outstanding renditions of these evergreen overtures, lean and exciting. All the favorites are here, and if for whatever reason you don't own these pieces, this is as fine a sampler as one could wish for. First-chair soloists are uniformly distinguished, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe uses a lean, crisp approach to phrasing. As for Abbado, he was peerless in Rossini for most of his career, and he's engaged and excitable here.

The Verdi program of choruses from La Scala is probably the least familiar to collectors, despite last being seen on DG Originals. If nothing else, this program demonstrates just how promising an artist Abbado was. It also showcases his mastery of the theatre; for years, Abbado was the top Verdi conductor available. It's not easy to take opera choruses out of context and build a viable album, but the selections – which mostly date from the late 1970's – are heartily sung, and brilliantly led from the podium. You'll see that I also give equal credit to longtime choral conductor Romano Gandolfi, who along with Abbado enhanced and enriched the tradition that is La Scala. Even the famous Gloria all'Egitto (from Aida) is staggeringly effective; I dare you not to be excited by the end. What these singers may lack in sheer tonal beauty, they make up for with heft and uncommon strength, occasionally joined by some of the great operatic voices of that time. The 15 choruses come with three riveting choral movements from the Messa de Requiem. The conductor never came close to giving us a complete recorded version as compelling as this, and that feeling of missed opportunity would recur throughout his long career. But when he was on, he was one of the best in the world. All three of these albums enforce that opinion, and are a must if you don't already own them.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman