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CD Review

Antonio Salieri

Twelve Opera Overtures

  • Il Talismano
  • Eraclito e Democrito
  • Cesare in Farmacusa
  • Il Ricco d'un giorno
  • La Secchia rapita
  • Axur, Re d'Ormus
  • Les Danaïdes
  • Don Chisciotte
  • La Grotta di Trofonio
  • Il Moro
  • Armida
  • L'Angiolina
Slovak Radio Symphony (Bratislava)/Michael Dittrich
Naxos 8.554838
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This is a reissue of a recording apparently dating from 1993. Naxos is not usually in the business of reissues, since the label's price already puts its material in the lower cost range, but then this effort was deserving of a second life, not least because it offers music one does not usually encounter, that of the underrated and much unfairly-maligned Antonio Salieri. A good many people still believe that his portrayal in the movie Amadeus was accurate. It wasn't. Salieri did become deranged near the end of his life and declare that he had poisoned Mozart. His claim was rightly dismissed as the delusion of a sick man. It is often forgotten that beside being the Court Kapellmeister in Vienna and a composer of considerable renown in his time, Salieri was also a teacher of Beethoven and Schubert.

In any event, the music here is of considerable charm, even approaching the level of genius. It is mostly light and cheery in mood, rhythmically and thematically appealing, and skillfully orchestrated.

The first item on the disc, the overture to the 1788 Il Talismano (The Talisman), may be the most immediately catchy of the dozen overtures offered here. Its rhythmic verve and thematic appeal carry it along, even if it sounds like Mozart warmed-over. Cesura in Farmacusa (Caesar in Farmacusa), from 1800, starts off powerfully and grimly, then begins sounding almost like Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, which was still not written. This is surely one of the more compelling and revealing items here.

To anyone who might doubt Salieri's skills as an orchestrator, try La Secchia rapita (The Stolen Bucket), which demonstrates a range of color and instrumentation. That it was written in 1772 (or perhaps earlier) suggests that Salieri, then barely in his twenties, already had to be in the forefront of orchestrators of his day.

Axur, re d'Ormus (Axur, king of Ormus) was one of Salieri's most popular operas. This 1787 work scored a great triumph in Paris in an earlier version and under a different title. This three-minute overture is colorful and may strike some as bombastic, but the music is quite effective and even memorable. The ensuing selection on the disc, the overture to Les Danaïdes, contains dissonances in the latter part that must have been shocking to the Paris audiences that heard them in 1784. The music is otherwise gripping and atmospheric. Another of the gems here is the Armida overture (1771), at six minutes the second longest item on the disc. It also contains brooding and atmospheric music in the introduction and some quite effective string writing in the latter half.

The one overture that didn't come off as effectively as it might have was Eraclito e Democrito, owing to Dittrich's somewhat sluggish tempo. The conductor is generally on target though, even if he tends at times to be a bit leisurely. The Slovak Radio Symphony plays with commitment and spirit. The sound is generally quite good, and Keith Anderson's notes are indispensable, supplying background information on each opera, and on Salieri. This is a fine release.

Copyright © 2000, Robert Cummings