Verdi Discoveries

Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi

Riccardo Chailly (conductor)

DECCA 473 767-2

TPT: 1:20:48

reviewed by Neville Cohn


This is a fascinating compilation, not only for legions of Verdi enthusiasts but anyone interested in music seldom heard either in concert venues or on disc or radio. In fact, no fewer than four of the ten tracks are claimed to be world premiere recordings.

It is not generally known that Verdi was considered an unusually fine pianist who seriously entertained the possibility of becoming a fulltime virtuoso. Fortunately for posterity, he opted for composition.

The score of Verdi’s Variations should be marked ‘for virtuosos only’. Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is unquestionably in that category ­ and here he demonstrates his extraordinary command of the keyboard with such verve and style that, for the duration of the performance, he makes the work sound far more significant than it really is. In Thibaudet’s hands, trash becomes treasure. In this sense, the French superstar of the piano is a musical illusionist of the first order.

Also on disc is the Aida Sinfonia which Verdi wrote to take the place of the opera’s original overture. Unsurprisingly, after Verdi heard his Sinfonia in rehearsal, he withdrew it and went back to his original because the Sinfonia is so intensely dramatic in mood and tone that, as liner note writer Dino Rizzo puts it, there was the risk of it ‘putting the characters themselves in the shade’.

Collectors of musical trivia might like to know that this was one of the very few scores that Toscanini, whose reverence for the printed note was a byword, felt compelled to alter before giving its first public performance as recently as March 1940.

Verdi’s Sinfonia in C, a prentice work (not to be confused with the Aida Sinfonia), is also well worth listening to despite its rather unadventurous harmonies and tendency to resort to cliché. Nimble, fluent strings are in excellent fettle here, so, too, the trumpets.

A bustling introduction gives way to some wondrously accomplished oboe playing in Canto di Virginia, a set of variations on a theme that enable Alessandro Potenza to demonstrate a phenomenal command of this most treacherous of wind instruments. Certainly here, Potenza succeeds in taming this wild child of the woodwind choir to do his bidding in even the most villainously demanding measures. Potenza produces a stream of sound so fine and pure that it would surely coax even the grumpiest bird from a twig.

Also on disc is a Prelude to Otello, a work Verdi put aside on the advice of librettist Boito. Conductor Riccardo Chailly learned of its existence only very recently, giving this gem its first performance (for this CD) in Milan in 2002.

Another novelty is the Capriccio for bassoon and orchestra which, the liner notes tell us, cannot definitely be attributed to Verdi but is included anyway. Whether by Verdi or another hand, the Capriccio is a pleasantly amiable piece made memorable for the agility and mellow tone of Andrea Magnani.

© November 2003

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