Although it is rarely commented upon, one of the glories of Italian opera, particularly that of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is the orchestral intermezzo -- the music that goes between scenes and which both gives time for changing scenery and for commenting on the preceding or upcoming scene. And, strangely, although I could be wrong, I don't recall any other CD in recent times that has consisted entirely of these wonderful orchestral morsels alone. We're all familiar with the intermezzi that exist in the standard repertoire, but how many of you know the music of Puccini's 'Edgar', Catalani's 'Loreley' (or even his most famous opera, 'La Wally') or Wolf-Ferrari's 'I Quattro Rusteghi'? Well, all those and more are here and they are played utterly gorgeously by the BBC Philharmonic under the knowing direction of Gianandrea Noseda (who, among other things, is a fixture in opera houses like his own Teatro Regio in Turin and our own Metropolitan).
There are familiar and well-loved pieces here -- the Prelude to Act III of 'La Traviata' with its implications of Violetta's tubercular frailty, the Intermezzo from 'I Pagliacci', the 'Dance of the Hours' from Ponchielli's 'La Gioconda'. All played with silken strings, pulsing emotion and lilting rhythms. But just as compelling are such things as the Prelude to Act II of Giordano's 'Siberia' (an opera I'd never even heard of), the delicate 'Dance of the Water Nymphs' from Catalani's 'Loreley', the Intermezzo from Puccini's 'Suor Angelica' with its mixture of loneliness and reverence. And that from Mascagni's 'other' opera 'L'Amico Fritz', which almost never gets revived these days because of its ludicrous plot; but its Intermezzo is a gently throbbing cri du coeur.
The only unfamiliar pieces here that I couldn't much respond to were the two Intermezzi from Catalani's 'La Wally.' I know there must be more to them that I can discern if only because I know that Arturo Toscanini so loved the opera that he named his daughter for its title character. For all that, though, these two intermezzi are here played with convincing sincerity. (For that matter, I've never much responded to the most famous aria from 'La Wally', 'Ebben? Ne andrò lontana', which featured so prominently in the movie 'Diva' and in Jonathan Demme's movie about AIDS, 'Philadelphia', so I'm sure the deficiency is mine, not Catalani's.)
Whoever had the idea for this CD should get an award. It is wholly satisfying both for its musical and technical aspects, and for its emotional impact.