19 November 2014 at 5.08pm | Comment on this article
Maria Callas - Pure (Warner Classics)
Callas recorded for EMI (now part of the Warner stable) for the best part of her professional life. It remains perhaps the most remarkable discography left by a singer, and huge thanks are due to Warner for returning to the original recording tapes in a gigantic undertaking that has resulted in Callas’ entire catalogue being reissued and remastered with sound quality unlike we have heard before. Cleaned up but with their essence not tampered with, her recordings are now more immediate and fresh, instantly arresting and it has become easier to comprehend the genius that Callas unquestionably was. You can invest in the complete works with an awesome box set, or buy recitals and operas individually. But if you want to have a listen to how great the changes are, you could start with Pure, a single-CD release featuring tracks from throughout her career. Many of them were recorded in her prime, with some from the latter years when vocal troubles beset the voice – but not the art. As a CD of favourite soprano arias, it works perfectly. As a sampler of the Callas catalogue, it merely hints at the treasures within.
Antonio Pappano – Rossini Overtures (Warner Classics)
We need hardly pretend we didn’t know Antonio Pappano was a great Rossinian, so the spark evident in this disc won’t surprise anybody. Pappano 'gets' Rossini – the subtle gradations of colour and tempi that make this music unique - and here he catches the tinta of each overture. It’s a great mix of the familiar and the less so – overtures from La Cenerentola and Il barbiere di Siviglia we can all hum along to, alongside lesser-known extracts from Semiramide and Le siege de Corinthe, the latter almost Mozartian in its formal detail. The penultimate track is the opening of Guillaume Tell, which Pappano will conduct later this Season - one of six operas at Covent Garden he's unleashing his baton on in 2014/15. Finally, the disc is rounded off on an unexpected note with a wind quartet, 'Andante e tema con variazione' – a work totally unfamiliar to me but well worth hearing.
Cecilia Bartoli – St Petersburg (Decca)
It seems that there's no stopping Cecilia Bartoli in her quest for the rare and the valuable. Her latest musical excavation takes her to the Imperial court of St Petersburg, where Italian opera was all the rage with the Tsars. Much of the music though has fallen into obscurity, but on this CD you can enjoy an astoundingly good selection of arias never before recorded - and in many cases - not heard in centuries. The range is astonishing and each work plays to Bartoli’s strengths: if the voice is no longer as full as it was, it is still remarkable in its flexibility and range and fully equal to the technical demands of the style. Bartoli has never gives less than her all, and as ever her energy and commitment bursts from the speakers. If Cimarosa is the only familiar composer on the disc, the real discovery for me is Raupach, writing in Russian: full marks to Bartoli for delivering some fiercely challenging music in a language she has not sung previously. This is the best of her recent discs, I think, and a must-have.
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