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Reviews Written by
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK)
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Bartok: Bluebeard's Castle
Bartok: Bluebeard's Castle

5.0 out of 5 stars Quietly effective and beautifully sung, 2 May 2016
I am close to being obsessed by this great work; is there another hour of opera that can chill, thrill and disturb like this Gothic horror with its enigmatic subtext and modern psychological insight? I currently own seven recordings and although I concede that others are overtly more dramatic or even histrionic in their impact, I think the combination of Boulez's cool control and the sheer vocal plushness of the two excellent singers here boost its claims to being as worthy as other favourites.

Fellow reviewers have extolled the virtues of Laszlo Polgar's later recording with Ivan Fischer but the incipient unsteadiness in his Judith's voice bothers me, despite her intensity and ease with the idiom (see my review). No such problems here with Jessye Norman in what I believe to be one of best recordings. I do not find that she is uninvolved - although she is certainly imperious when she orders Bluebeard to open the seventh door. She is in full command of the vocal demands of this difficult role, up to the high C of "shock and awe" when the fifth door swings open to reveal the extent of the Duke's kingdom. Her Hungarian sounds very idiomatic to my ears and an element of detachment quite suits a portrayal of Judith which suggests that she would have to suffer from a degree of alienation from reality to press her demands so foolishly.

Polgar is one of a long line of great basses or bass-baritones who have undertaken the fascinating role of Bluebeard: Hines (in English - superb), Ramey, Howell, Kovats, Berry - all are terrific but Polgar matches them with his sonorous tone and clear diction. The Chicago orchestra is as good as you might expect them to be and I have already mentioned Boulez's quiet mastery of the score. The sound - especially the special effects when the spectral sighing echoes along the corridors - is exemplary.

It is also a great bonus to have the poetry of Bela Balazs intoned by the gravelly-voiced Nicholas Simon in the Prologue as the music creeps in; I prefer a quieter, more menacing delivery of the kind we hear in the BBC Music Magazine issue conducted by Mark Elder to his very emotive style but it is still effective - even if it does not chime with Boulez's understatement. Full text and an English translation is provided.

I award five stars, despite acknowledging that other versions are more overtly theatrical, simply to reflect how much pleasure I derive from listening to the beautiful vocalism and under-stated control of this recording; sometimes subtlety and beauty are preferable to a Grand Guignol approach in this music.


Bruckner: Symphony 4
Bruckner: Symphony 4

5.0 out of 5 stars A great bargain: a superb recording from the world's senior Bruckner conductor, 27 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bruckner: Symphony 4 (Audio CD)
My thanks to fellow Amazonian ab for directing me towards this terrific bargain recording in excellent digital sound conducted by a revered Brucknerian Skrowaczewski, whom I heard in excellent form last year at 92 years old conducting the Bruckner 5 in the Royal Festival Hall and here directs a first rate recording of Bruckner's most popular symphony.

Incidentally,I heard last Sunday another veteran Bruckner conductor, Herbert Blomstedt conduct this same symphony with the Philharmonia,and that bold, assertive performance was similar to what we hear on this IMP CD: this, too, is vigorous, direct, propulsive playing with moments of great grandeur and where everything seems to be judged perfectly, from the stately but occasionally wistful Andante to the magnificently climactic finale.

The Hallé - not necessarily an orchestra particularly associated with Bruckner - plays superbly: the brass and horns sonorous and error-free, the strings finding real tonal depth,and the orchestra in general responding to their conductor's energised direction and grading dynamics particularly subtly. They are served by beautifully balanced digital sound.

(A pity about the witlessly inappropriate choice of artwork for the cover - but no matter.)
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 4, 2016 12:44 AM BST


Mahler: Symphony No.9  (DG The Originals)
Mahler: Symphony No.9 (DG The Originals)
Price: £7.07

5.0 out of 5 stars A glorious performance in newly revived sound - Bernstein in excelsis., 27 April 2016
Previous reviewers have sufficiently and even laboriously toiled over the minutiae of the differences between Bernstein's three recordings of this symphony, so I shall simply summarise by saying that I find the last, Concertgebouw recording to have less personality and be more laboured than this mighty live performance, that the remastered sound on this DG Originals issue certainly beats the thinner, more distant sound in Amsterdam and that despite the virtues of the earliest recording on Sony, especially now that the already excellent analogue sound has been remastered, the New York Philharmonic is not as impressive an orchestra as the Berlin Phil in 1979, despite a few minor and negligible imprecisions - some of which have been absurdly exaggerated by previous commentators. All three are great accounts but if you must choose, this is the one to have, for its weight and intensity.

There is of course the issue of the missing three trombones at the climax half way through the finale, when a member of the audience most unfortunately had a heart attack, but that omission is hardly as fatal to the recording as the poor man's indisposition was to him. There is also Lenny's groaning and grunting to contend with, but I do not find it so distracting; the audible manifestations of his emphysema perhaps remind us of that shadow of mortality hanging over the whole symphony and Mahler's last years.

On the credit side, in addition to the sonic advantages and the supremacy of execution already mentioned, is Bernstein's supreme control of phrasing and rubato; he pulls back and lets go with an elastic flexibility of which the composer himself would, by all accounts, have surely approved. The music breathes, sobs and sighs; no Mahler Lite here. I want this symphony to be gloriously played on a large scale and to sound lush and indulgent - and here it is. The concluding minutes of the finale are as rapt, sweet and still as you could wish - marvellous.


Verdi: Falstaff
Verdi: Falstaff
Price: £65.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly as good as Karajan but a tad unsmiling, 26 April 2016
This review is from: Verdi: Falstaff (Audio CD)
In a recent BBC Radio 3 Record Review, this excellent recording from 1963 was just pipped at the post by the classic Karajan recording from seven years earlier, a verdict with which I completely agree yet I still think that Evans, with his truly rich, "fat" bass-baritone, offers another vocal dimension which Gobbi, with his leaner, more acerbic tone, cannot. On the other hand, nobody tops Gobbi when it comes to teasing out the subtle inflections of the text - and he is funnier than Evans' more straightforward blusterer.

I had not heard this recording for more than forty years and I must say that Evans comes out of my re-acquaintance with it much better than I had remembered him. He was in his vocal prime at forty-one years old and there is scarcely any loosening of the vibrato, which occurred later in his long career. The top is secure and the vocal personality just right, especially in the "Honour" and "Mondo ladro", post-dunking monologues. He can lighten his tone for "Quando ero paggio" and is a perfect foil for the more virile, youthful and noble sound of Merrill's splendid Ford; the latter dominates the aural stage when he is singing and is a match for Karajan's Panerai.

The trio of older women is also virtually the equal of Karajan's: the under-recoded Ilva Ligabue is especially warm and vibrant, beautifully partnered by Rosalind Elias's Meg; both have that swift, flickering vibrato now almost extinct in our wobble-plagued age. Simionato is of course suitably stentorian and amusing as Quickly, although I think Barbieri has the edge in bringing out the comedy of "Reverenza". Similarly, you would think that the lovers could hardly be better cast with Freni and Kraus as Nanetta and Fenton respectively and they are indeed charming, but Moffo and Alva are again just that bit more sweet and vulnerable. The last, Herne's Oak scene does not quite achieve the magical, ethereal quality that Karajan conjures up in his recording.

That latter deficiency of course has a lot to do with Solti's conductorial style, which is swift and driven, great for the farcical ensembles but less apt for the moments of repose. As Toscanini's successor in manner, he replicates that older master's energy but not his flexibility; nor does he emulate Karajan's affection for the score.

I wonder, too, whether, the recorded sound amplifies that driven quality; I found it to be very bright and a bit treble-biased, a touch harsh in parts - yet I note that another reviewer found it muddy; it seems that one's equipment and indeed ears play their own part in the perception of the aural landscape, so I won't attempt to expand on that. Certainly the sound is very good for so venerable a recording and I am glad to have this set sitting alongside my Karajan and Toscanini recordings on my shelves.

Nonetheless, it's a rum old state of affairs when in 2016 the prime recommendations remain recordings made fifty, sixty and even seventy years ago. Nothing since, least of all the seven studio recordings, begins to touch the virtues of those three - certainly not Fischer-Dieskau, whose ego so often led him to into being monumentally mis-cast in recordings, or Taddei, recorded too late in Karajan's second version, or Panerai for Davis, when he was so much better as Ford for Karajan thirty-five years earlier, or the wobbly Trimarchi for Humburg, or Lafont for Gardiner (don't get me started), or Terfel's weirdly unfunny assumption for a tired Abbado in 2001; none of these can hold a candle to that venerable trio.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 4, 2016 1:55 PM BST


Verdi - Falstaff / G. Evans ∑ Freni ∑ Simionato ∑ R. Merrill ∑ Kraus ∑ RCA IOO ∑ Solti
Verdi - Falstaff / G. Evans ∑ Freni ∑ Simionato ∑ R. Merrill ∑ Kraus ∑ RCA IOO ∑ Solti
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £21.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly as good as Karajan but a tad unsmiling, 26 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In a recent BBC Radio 3 Record Review, this excellent recording from 1963 was just pipped at the post by the classic Karajan recording from seven years earlier, a verdict with which I completely agree yet I still think that Evans, with his truly rich, "fat" bass-baritone, offers another vocal dimension which Gobbi, with his leaner, more acerbic tone, cannot. On the other hand, nobody tops Gobbi when it comes to teasing out the subtle inflections of the text - and he is funnier than Evans' more straightforward blusterer.

I had not heard this recording for more than forty years and I must say that Evans comes out of my re-acquaintance with it much better than I had remembered him. He was in his vocal prime at forty-one years old and there is scarcely any loosening of the vibrato, which occurred later in his long career. The top is secure and the vocal personality just right, especially in the "Honour" and "Mondo ladro", post-dunking monologues. He can lighten his tone for "Quando ero paggio" and is a perfect foil for the more virile, youthful and noble sound of Merrill's splendid Ford; the latter dominates the aural stage when he is singing and is a match for Karajan's Panerai.

The trio of older women is also virtually the equal of Karajan's: the under-recoded Ilva Ligabue is especially warm and vibrant, beautifully partnered by Rosalind Elias's Meg; both have that swift, flickering vibrato now almost extinct in our wobble-plagued age. Simionato is of course suitably stentorian and amusing as Quickly, although I think Barbieri has the edge in bringing out the comedy of "Reverenza". Similarly, you would think that the lovers could hardly be better cast with Freni and Kraus as Nanetta and Fenton respectively and they are indeed charming, but Moffo and Alva are again just that bit more sweet and vulnerable. The last, Herne's Oak scene does not quite achieve the magical, ethereal quality that Karajan conjures up in his recording.

That latter deficiency of course has a lot to do with Solti's conductorial style, which is swift and driven, great for the farcical ensembles but less apt for the moments of repose. As Toscanini's successor in manner, he replicates that older master's energy but not his flexibility; nor does he emulate Karajan's affection for the score.

I wonder, too, whether, the recorded sound amplifies that driven quality; I found it to be very bright and a bit treble-biased, a touch harsh in parts - yet I note that another reviewer found it muddy; it seems that one's equipment and indeed ears play their own part in the perception of the aural landscape, so I won't attempt to expand on that. Certainly the sound is very good for so venerable a recording and I am glad to have this set sitting alongside my Karajan and Toscanini recordings on my shelves.

Nonetheless, it's a rum old state of affairs when in 2016 the prime recommendations remain recordings made fifty, sixty and even seventy years ago. Nothing since, least of all the seven studio recordings, begins to touch the virtues of those three - certainly not Fischer-Dieskau, whose ego so often led him to into being monumentally mis-cast in recordings, or Taddei, recorded too late in Karajan's second version, or Panerai for Davis, when he was so much better as Ford for Karajan thirty-five years earlier, or the wobbly Trimarchi for Humburg, or Lafont for Gardiner (don't get me started), or Terfel's weirdly unfunny assumption for a tired Abbado in 2001; none of these can hold a candle to that venerable trio.


Don Carlo
Don Carlo

5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical and deeply felt, 26 April 2016
This review is from: Don Carlo (Audio CD)
I returned to this 1978 recording at a friend's request after quite a long interval and must say that the recollection I had of it being under-cast in its two principal roles with singers whose voices were too lyrical was mistaken; I don't think I have ever hard a more moving pair of doomed lovers than Carreras and Freni, who both still have enough steel in their voices to carry off the spinto passages but are deeply melancholy and touching in their plight.

However, let's dispense with one valid objection, that there is often too much of an imbalance between orchestra and voices, with the singers occasionally struggling to be adequately heard; this is particularly noticeable in the first Act. It is also true that there are too many dynamic extremes which mean the listener feels obliged to do some knob-twiddling (or remote-pressing) so as not to miss detail or be blasted about the ears. On the other hand, the opening minutes with the horns, off-stage chorus and the voice of the Monk intoning above them are very satisfyingly mysterious and atmospheric and the problem retreats as the recording proceeds.

Otherwise, this is very recommendable for the quality of playing and singing. Karajan opts for the shorter, tauter four Act version but thereby clearly feels that he has time to linger a little more over the arcing, long-breathed phrase of the darker music; however, the massed scenes lack no punch.

Ghiaurov is immense reprising his most celebrated role and is well matched by Raimondi; the two strike sparks off each other in the confrontation scene and both vocalise beautifully, Raimondi's saturnine tone contrasting with Ghiaurov's velvety magnificence. Raimondi starts quietly then build to an explosive climax when he challenges the King. Cappuccilli has not the rounded, juiciest baritone but his breath-control is extraordinary and he lives the role of Posa convincingly, especially for a singer who could be rather bland and externalised in his characterisation. Agnes Baltsa is extraordinary, the complete Eboli: vibrant, thrilling and almost hysterical , with laser-like top notes. She is wonderfully seductive in her bolero, which benefits from not being taken too fast. Freni is singing to the limits of her voice but without being over-stretched; she is no Tebaldi but floats high notes exquisitely and amply fills the long, high-flying lines of "Non pianger, mia compagna". Carreras's plangent tenor is ideal for suggesting the obsessive, maudlin nature of the prince and his last duet with Elisabetta is deeply felt, creating the requisite ethereal, otherworldly ambiance. José van Dam's Monk is nobly voiced.

All in all, acoustic eccentricities notwithstanding, this is a complete experience of the four Act version.


Mahler: Symphony No.3
Mahler: Symphony No.3
Price: £19.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Ignore the negligible flaws and revel in the Dionysian spirit of the music-making, 25 April 2016
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No.3 (Audio CD)
I began listening to this venerable recording - the favourite of many seasoned listeners - prepared to find fault with its various flaws: the imbalances between instrumental blocks, the occasional flub which might have been corrected as it is a studio recording, the rather acidic quality of Norma Procter's alto, and the admittedly slightly antiquated sound from 1970. In fact little of that matters when measured against the mastery of Horenstein's direction and the commitment of the LSO.

This is in fact an account which encompasses both the great majesty of the march of Nature and also the mercurial, perky flavour of the more playful passages. Horenstein does not overdo the Sturm und Drang but recognises the good humour of so much of the music. There is a truly celebratory sense to the music-making here, underscoring the apparently antithetical depiction, aptly described by Bruno Walter in the notes, as a marriage between "primordial inflexibility and lust-driven wildness". The cacophonous climaxes to the opening and closing movements are gloriously uplifting and released. The pastoral second part is alternately gentle and sparkling, with some lovely playing on the strings and flutes; the playing of the solo trombone and flügelhorn might not be technically flawless but it is musically so apt and atmospheric. The orchestral playing in the Scherzo is airy and whimsical and I like the slightly rough, raw sound of the Wandsworth Boys' Choir - who incidentally sing in excellent German.

At first, I thought the finale could have begun more tenderly and that Horenstein was undercooking it, but then I realised that he was keeping his powder dry and pacing more cunningly than I had appreciated and that he was gradually generating enormous cumulative tension, saving the punch to the listener's solar plexus in those last bars.

This kicks into touch technically perfect but emotionally anodyne recordings like that by Chailly.

I began listening to this venerable recording - the favourite of many seasoned listeners - prepared to find fault with its various flaws: the imbalances between instrumental blocks, the occasional flub which might have been corrected as it is a studio recording, the rather acidic quality of Norma Procter's alto, and the admittedly slightly antiquated sound from 1970. In fact little of that matters when measured against the mastery of Horenstein's direction and the commitment of the LSO.

This is fact an account which encompasses both the great majesty of the march of Nature and also the mercurial, perky flavour of the more playful passages. Horenstein does not overdo the Sturm und Drang but recognises the good humour of so much of the music. There is a truly celebratory sense to the music-making here, underscoring the apparently antithetical depiction, aptly described by Bruno Walter in the notes, as a marriage between "primordial inflexibility and lust-driven wildness". The cacophonous climaxes to the opening and closing movements are gloriously uplifting and released. The pastoral second part is alternately gentle and sparkling, with some lovely playing om the strings and flutes; the playing of the solo trombone and flügelhorn might not be technically flawless but it is musically so apt and atmospheric. The orchestral playing in the Scherzo is airy and whimsical and I like the slightly rough, raw sound of the Wandsworth Boys' Choir - who incidentally sing in excellent German.

At first, I thought the finale could have begun more tenderly and that Horenstein was undercooking it, but then I realised that he was keeping his powder dry and pacing more cunningly than I had appreciated and that he was gradually generating enormous cumulative tension, saving the punch to the listener's solar plexus in those last bars.

This kicks into touch technically perfect but emotionally anodyne recordings like that by Chailly.


I Puritani
I Puritani
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £27.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Sounds even better as the years pass, 25 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: I Puritani (Audio CD)
I well remember the first time I heard this recording when BBC3 Record Review reviewed its issue back in 1980. I was struck by the beauty of the great ensembles and set pieces, going on to purchase the recording. I have since switched allegiance regarding my favourite recording to the earlier 1973 recording with Sutherland and Pavarotti in finest form, so I do not agree with a previous reviewer that this remains the best available. Of course one's preference largely depends on personal taste in voices and I have never been the greatest fan of Kraus's reedy tenor, for all that I acknowledge and admire his artistry, and it must also be said that Caballé is here is in inconsistent form compared with her finest recordings; she is sometimes a bit screechy and blowsy, especially in Elvira's second scene duet with Giorgio, where her voice turns gusty and shrill. Yet she is sublime in the opening off-stage hymn and in superb voice for set pieces like the famous "O rendetemi la speme" and the ensemble "Son vergin vezzosa". Her soft singing, such as in another off-stage number, "A una fonte" is simply exquisite.

The surprising thing is that there have only ever been five studio recordings and this one, now nearly forty years old, was the last; everything since has been a live performance and none has come near to fielding singers of the calibre found in those five recordings. Tenors who have since essayed the role of Arturo,such as Kunde, Brownlee and Florez are certainly excellent but rarely partnered by sopranos of a quality similar to Callas, Sutherland or Freni. The latter is partnered by Pavarotti live Roma RAI broadcast, also conducted by Muti in 1969, is another strong contender. Di Stefano, alongside Callas, is most certainly unsuited to the demands of that bel canto role. The 1973 recording with Sills and Gedda was made too late in her career and Gedda does not have the squillo, heft or allure of tone to compete with Pavarotti at his best.

The Bonynge recording also boasts a better Giorgio in Nicolai Ghiaurov; Agostino Ferrin for Muti is thin, windy and tremulous. On theother hand Matteo Manuguerra is stupendous and far preferable to the workaday and unsubtle Cappuccilli; Manuguerra's "Ah! per sempre" is a model of the bel canto baritone, agile, sustaining a seamless line and always maintaining beauty of tone, despite some slight nasality - which I in fact find to be an attractive feature of his voice. Kraus was fifty-one at the time of the recording and in good voice, with a top D flat and enduring command of legato. A young Dennis O'Neill sings Bruno a few years before he graduated to singing Arturo for the WNO.

Muti's direction is taut and dramatic; he famously permitted no time-honoured elaborations or additions so we get the score straight, with no interpolated top notes, such as the high F in "Credeasi misera!", "just" two top D flats, which Kraus delivers with panache. The reliable Ambrosian chorus is lusty and Italianate and the whole ensemble very satisfying, the Philharmonia playing beautifully.

So this remains a highly enjoyable version, slightly impaired by the weak Giorgio and Caballé's inconsistency but memorable for many things, including her best moments, Kraus's elegance and the beauty of Manuguerra's singing.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 27, 2016 7:20 PM BST


I Puritani (Muti, Philharmonia Orchestra, Cabelle, Kraus)
I Puritani (Muti, Philharmonia Orchestra, Cabelle, Kraus)
Price: £93.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Sounds even better as the years pass, 25 April 2016
I well remember the first time I heard this recording when BBC3 Record Review reviewed its issue back in 1980. I was struck by the beauty of the great ensembles and set pieces, going on to purchase the recording. I have since switched allegiance regarding my favourite recording to the earlier 1973 recording with Sutherland and Pavarotti in finest form, so I do not agree with a previous reviewer that this remains the best available. Of course one's preference largely depends on personal taste in voices and I have never been the greatest fan of Kraus's reedy tenor, for all that I acknowledge and admire his artistry, and it must also be said that Caballé is here is in inconsistent form compared with her finest recordings; she is sometimes a bit screechy and blowsy, especially in Elvira's second scene duet with Giorgio, where her voice turns gusty and shrill. Yet she is sublime in the opening off-stage hymn and in superb voice for set pieces like the famous "O rendetemi la speme" and the ensemble "Son vergin vezzosa". Her soft singing, such as in another off-stage number, "A una fonte" is simply exquisite.

The surprising thing is that there have only ever been five studio recordings and this one, now nearly forty years old, was the last; everything since has been a live performance and none has come near to fielding singers of the calibre found in those five recordings. Tenors who have since essayed the role of Arturo,such as Kunde, Brownlee and Florez are certainly excellent but rarely partnered by sopranos of a quality similar to Callas, Sutherland or Freni. The latter is partnered by Pavarotti live Roma RAI broadcast, also conducted by Muti in 1969, is another strong contender. Di Stefano, alongside Callas, is most certainly unsuited to the demands of that bel canto role. The 1973 recording with Sills and Gedda was made too late in her career and Gedda does not have the squillo, heft or allure of tone to compete with Pavarotti at his best.

The Bonynge recording also boasts a better Giorgio in Nicolai Ghiaurov; Agostino Ferrin for Muti is thin, windy and tremulous. On theother hand Matteo Manuguerra is stupendous and far preferable to the workaday and unsubtle Cappuccilli; Manuguerra's "Ah! per sempre" is a model of the bel canto baritone, agile, sustaining a seamless line and always maintaining beauty of tone, despite some slight nasality - which I in fact find to be an attractive feature of his voice. Kraus was fifty-one at the time of the recording and in good voice, with a top D flat and enduring command of legato. A young Dennis O'Neill sings Bruno a few years before he graduated to singing Arturo for the WNO.

Muti's direction is taut and dramatic; he famously permitted no time-honoured elaborations or additions so we get the score straight, with no interpolated top notes, such as the high F in "Credeasi misera!", "just" two top D flats, which Kraus delivers with panache. The reliable Ambrosian chorus is lusty and Italianate and the whole ensemble very satisfying, the Philharmonia playing beautifully.

|So this remains a highly enjoyable version, slightly impaired by the weak Giorgio and Caballé's inconsistency but memorable for many things, including her best moments, Kraus's elegance and the beauty of Manuguerra's singing.


I Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini, Riccardo Muti (2012-02-07)
I Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini, Riccardo Muti (2012-02-07)
Offered by FHL Store
Price: £20.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Sounds even better as the years pass, 25 April 2016
I well remember the first time I heard this recording when BBC3 Record Review reviewed its issue back in 1980. I was struck by the beauty of the great ensembles and set pieces, going on to purchase the recording. I have since switched allegiance regarding my favourite recording to the earlier 1973 recording with Sutherland and Pavarotti in finest form, so I do not agree with a previous reviewer that this remains the best available. Of course one's preference largely depends on personal taste in voices and I have never been the greatest fan of Kraus's reedy tenor, for all that I acknowledge and admire his artistry, and it must also be said that Caballé is here is in inconsistent form compared with her finest recordings; she is sometimes a bit screechy and blowsy, especially in Elvira's second scene duet with Giorgio, where her voice turns gusty and shrill. Yet she is sublime in the opening off-stage hymn and in superb voice for set pieces like the famous "O rendetemi la speme" and the ensemble "Son vergin vezzosa". Her soft singing, such as in another off-stage number, "A una fonte" is simply exquisite.

The surprising thing is that there have only ever been five studio recordings and this one, now nearly forty years old, was the last; everything since has been a live performance and none has come near to fielding singers of the calibre found in those five recordings. Tenors who have since essayed the role of Arturo,such as Kunde, Brownlee and Florez are certainly excellent but rarely partnered by sopranos of a quality similar to Callas, Sutherland or Freni. The latter is partnered by Pavarotti live Roma RAI broadcast, also conducted by Muti in 1969, is another strong contender. Di Stefano, alongside Callas, is most certainly unsuited to the demands of that bel canto role. The 1973 recording with Sills and Gedda was made too late in her career and Gedda does not have the squillo, heft or allure of tone to compete with Pavarotti at his best.

The Bonynge recording also boasts a better Giorgio in Nicolai Ghiaurov; Agostino Ferrin for Muti is thin, windy and tremulous. On theother hand Matteo Manuguerra is stupendous and far preferable to the workaday and unsubtle Cappuccilli; Manuguerra's "Ah! per sempre" is a model of the bel canto baritone, agile, sustaining a seamless line and always maintaining beauty of tone, despite some slight nasality - which I in fact find to be an attractive feature of his voice. Kraus was fifty-one at the time of the recording and in good voice, with a top D flat and enduring command of legato. A young Dennis O'Neill sings Bruno a few years before he graduated to singing Arturo for the WNO.

Muti's direction is taut and dramatic; he famously permitted no time-honoured elaborations or additions so we get the score straight, with no interpolated top notes, such as the high F in "Credeasi misera!", "just" two top D flats, which Kraus delivers with panache. The reliable Ambrosian chorus is lusty and Italianate and the whole ensemble very satisfying, the Philharmonia playing beautifully.

|So this remains a highly enjoyable version, slightly impaired by the weak Giorgio and Caballé's inconsistency but memorable for many things, including her best moments, Kraus's elegance and the beauty of Manuguerra's singing.


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