BALTIMORE CONSORT’s SHAKESPEAREAN MUSIC -Best 2019

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Listening to the Baltimore Consort’s CD The Food of Love (Sono Luminus DSL-92234) made me feel musically deprived by the absence of any similarly accomplished ensemble dedicated to Early Music near our vicinity.

The consolation comes for me by listening to The Food of Love, a treasure trove of Elizabethan music performed by six superb specialists on an array of exotic instruments that include treble and bass viols, cittern, recorders, crumhorn, fifes, and bagpipes, in addition to the more familiar lute and flute.

The players are Mary Anne Ballard, Mark Cudek, Larry Lipkis, Ronn McFarlane. Mindy Rosenfeld, and soprano Danielle Svonavec. All six of these artists brilliantly bring to life the music of several contemporaries of Shakespeare, notably Thomas Morley, Richard Edwards, Robert Jones, Robert Johnson, attached to Shakespeare’s The King’s Men as composer in residence,  Anthony Holborne, and John Dowland.

The music is richly varied, with a number of familiar tunes revisited: It was a Lover and his Lass… O Mistress Mine… Bonny Sweet Robin… Greensleeves…Where the Bee Sucks…Willow Song… The less familiar but eminently accessible includes among other lively instrumentals: Heart’s Ease… The Buffens… and Kemp’s Jig, the tune that actor Will Kemp famously and uninterruptedly danced to for one hundred miles between London and Norwich.

Here’s a short sampler of the Baltimore Consort’s music-making: Tarleton’s Jighttps://youtu.be/G49NMFIK-2Y

Melancholy turns abound as in My Lady Carey’s Dompe, a charmer that hints in 1525 at the early arrival of the Baroque over half a century away.

Then one encounters early examples of incidental music such as the haunting Fortune my Foe that Shakespeare must have used to underpin key moments in his tragedies and comedies, in addition to the familiarly ubiquitous dance interludes and songs.

The presence of bouncy syncopation in Hollborne’s 1599 instrumental dance Fairie Rownde is both amusing and nothing short of surprising, belying the false conceit that much Elizabethan music is all laidback sameness. Far from it, this gem of an album played with Historical Performance accuracy and 21st century pizzazz is a revealing and often toe-tapping thing to treasure.

Kudos to Mark Cudek and Larry Lipkis for the scholarly and insightful booklet notes. The engineering by Daniel Shores and the producing by Dan Merceruio help place the Sono Luminus release of the Baltimore Consort’s CD The Food of Love at the very top of my list of 2019 favorites.

Rafael de Acha        http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

DANIEL TARRAB IN BUENOS AIRES – BEST 2019

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Composer, Bass Player, Conductor Daniel Tarrab and I recently became friends on Facebook and the likelihood of us remaining Facebook friends for as long as we both walk the earth is pretty good. Daniel lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina and I live smack in the center of the USA, so it is more than likely that we will never meet in person.

But that does not sadden me: I can get all the sadness, or, better, melancholy by listening to Daniel’s music again and again.

His is quintessentially Argentine music, or even more specifically: Buenos Aires music. Tangos of the sort I used to hear sung by Carlos Gardel on the radio growing up in Cuba.

But there’s been a lot of tango music flowing on the waters of the River Plate since Gardel went to the place where all the great music-makers go and where I hope to meet up with Daniel Tarrab some day, if I get lucky and I am admitted.

But meanwhile I have Tarrab’s music that I am playing on my Bose as I write this. The eight tracks on Tarrab’s CD Otra Mirada (Another Glance) could be danced to, I suppose.

Certainly La Lamparita (The Little Lantern) lacks the steadily syncopated one/ two/ three/ AND rhythm of many of the good danceable tangos, but it has plenty of melody to linger in the memory. Others, like Encuentro (Encounter) begin with preludes that portend passionately rhythmic outbursts ahead.

Still others, like El Quinto, Entrelineas and En la Cornisa have titles that even in Spanish do not give away what the mood of the music might be, not until Tarrab’s string orchestra and its spectacular soloists cut loose.

The music with which Tarrab mesmerizes the listener straddles genres, a DNA which this listener welcomes, as hints of jazzy riffs, classical cadenzas, and improvisatory flights of fancy bounce off each other seamlessly.

One hesitates to single out players in such company but I succumb to temptation and name Nestor Marconi one of the best bandoneon players I have ever heard. Violinist Pablo Agri brilliantly leads the strings and solos throughout, doing much of the melodic heavy-lifting on the CD.

And then there’s Daniel Tarrab on the piano, Daniel Tarrab on the string bass, Daniel Tarrab revealing his soul in every bar of every tango of every track of this memorable CD.

Otra Mirada is available from Silva Screen Records and Times Square Records.

Rafael de Acha     http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

STRAUSS SALOME AND SALZBURG SALAMI

hires-04_salome_2018_asmikgrigorian_c_sf_ruthwalzThe first stage direction we encounter in the libretto of Richard Strauss’ mercifully brief one act opera Salome is succinct: “A large terrace in the Palace of Herod, which sits by a banquet hall. Some soldiers lean over a parapet. On the right, an imposing staircase, on the left in the background an old cistern with a green bronze frame. The moon shines very brightly.”

Later Salome says to Herod: “I’m ready, Tetrarch” and the stage direction says: “Salome dances”

… and later… “A huge black executioner’s arm, stretches out of the cistern, holding the head of Jochanaan on a silver shield. Salome seizes it …”

And still later, at the very end of the opera, there’s a crucial stage direction implied in Herod’s last line screamed at his guards: “Kill this woman”

Follow those four key stage directions and you get a roadmap for staging Richard Strauss’ Salome, which the German composer arranged after Oscar Wilde’s same-titled play.

But in Romeo Castellucci’s train-wreck of a production for the 2018 Salzburg Festival, now available on DVD from UNITEL we get neither much of a palace nor a Dance of the Seven Veils nor the cathartic killing of the monstrous Salome. Not a chance.

Instead we get a creepy mono-chromatic set much resembling the basement of a mortuary establishment where the voice of John the Baptist seems to come from a gigantic hole in the ground. Later out of it comes the Prophet’s hairy naked body minus his missing head seated on a chair all set for Salome to do some kinky washing of his lower extremities.

We get no dance, just Salome doing nothing in a fetal pose next to a black stone. And at the end, Salome sinks into the hole in the ground like a crocodile before anyone can get to her. All this courtesy of director Castellucci.

The staging, if one can call it that, is horrendous but neither it nor the so-so singing of Strauss-Lite Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian deters the well-heeled 1% of Salzburg clad in tuxes and gowns from giving the show a self-congratulatory ovation celebrating High Kulture. Oh for the days of Teresa Stratas or Karita Mattila!

Others in the large cast are OK in their small supporting roles but the off-the-rack suits the men wear look like the remnants of a close out sale at Barney’s. The hapless singer of the role of Herodias is clad in a 1910 full length gown and hat belonging to yet another part of the come as you are costume design by none other the director Castellucci, who for some inexplicable reason has everyone but Salome sporting red or black make up that covers the face from the nose down.

Among the principals in the cast Hungarian bass-baritone Gabor Bretz delivers a stentorian Jochanaan, Julian Prégardien presents a nicely sung Narraboth, and John Daszak and AnnaMaria Chiuri scream their heads off as Herod and Herodias.

But too bad they could not hire another director so we could get Strauss’ Salome, not Castellucci’s Salami.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

CARMEN CATASTROPHE & TOSCA TRAVESTY

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A friend sent me links to two recent productions: the Covent Garden/Barry Kosky Carmen catastrophe and the Aix-en-Provence Tosca travesty with Catherine Malfitano…

Here’s what I sent my friend by email and below it the links so that you can judge for yourselves:

Thank you for sending the opera package, which I would like to say I enjoyed but did not. Instead I sat in front of my computer screen thinking about a modified version of a great one-liner “After this, the deluge!”

Never a fan of Eurotrash opera I remain an unchanging traditionalist that loathes all the claptrap that passes for new ideas in the staging of opera. Watching the acting in both the Covent Garden Carmen and the Aix-en-Provence Tosca does nothing to dispel my conviction that most opera singers can’t act their way out of a paper bag. And this kind of directing does nothing to help the singing actor.

All the directorial idiocies in the world are no substitute for disciplined and intellectually grounded dramaturgical homework, and in both these cases we get a mishmash of superficial ideas and plain bad taste that betrays the intent of both composer and librettist.

Barry Kosky, the director of the Covent Garden Carmen reveals his trendy aesthetic when, in an interview part of the video he says (and I paraphrase) his Carmen uses a bit of Paris 1930’s, a bit of Weimar decadence, and so on…

Listening to and watching both these productions (partially I admit) reveals one recurring symptom of this kind of opera production: the singers are not all that good because the really good Carmens and Don Josés and Escamillos and Toscas and Cavaradossis and Scarpias in the business would not be caught dead singing in this kind of staging.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzsbN1BXvao

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5xwuLRrsOk

Tosca Complete Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEu55qres6A&t=2979s

Rafael de Acha     http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

WARM MUSIC FROM ICELAND

Protected by International CopyrightIn Southbound of the Circle (SONO LUMINUS 92232), a superb string quartet takes the listener on a journey into the far reaches of Icelandic music by award-winning composers Daniel Bjarnason, Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Mamiko Dís Ragnarsdóttir, and Haukur Tómasson.

Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, Helga Dóra Björgvinsdóttir, Þórunn Ósk Marinósdóttir, and Sigurdur Bjarki Gunarsson are the members of the Siggi String Quartet. Each and every one of them virtuoso soloists on their own, here they place their precise, focused, quintessentially honest, elegant, intensely emotional, and intellectually compelling playing to the service of the music.

In Daniel Bjarnason’s Stillshot the music begrudgingly stands still but for a moment to capture in sound one instance of stasis out of many fragments of reality depicted in restless snippets of melody that appear and evanesce like memories that leave no trace behind.

The quartet’s uncanny ability to flesh out in sound the ineffable is present in Una Sveinbjarnardóttir’s Opacity a four-movement string quartet that juxtaposes different soli for each of the quartet’s members allowing them only towards the end to just barely intertwine.

Valgeir Sigurðsson offers in his Nebraska a commentary on the similarity between his birthplace’s isolation and geographical vastness and Nebraska’s similar physical characteristics, utilizing sweeping, long lined melodic statements from the cello against ostinato broken chords in the upper strings that evoke aspects of nature, some rugged and unforgiving, some beneficent.

Mamiko Dís Ragnarsdóttir bucolic Fair Flowers celebrates the starkness of Iceland’s Tröllaskagi peninsula and the improbable survival and resiliency of its multicolored flora in a miniature polytonal tone poem.

Haukur Tómasson Serimonia is a study in motion in which pizzicato strings alternate with sforzando attacks that create a landscape of tonal and rhythmic uncertainty that does not go away but simply and gradually does a decrescendo that gently fades away .

SONO LUMINUS has created an excellent sampler of music far off the beaten path lovingly engineered by Daniel Shores and flawlessly produced by Dan Merceruio. To each and every one involved in this worthy project here is a hearty Icelandic Hamingjuóskir!

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

CLARINET CLASSICS AT RIVERDALE

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Most of us are fairly familiar with the large-scale overtures of Carl Maria von Weber – Oberon, Euryanthe, Der Freischütz… – and barely acquainted with most of his chamber music. So here, with the release of the lovely DELOS 3561 CD CLARINET CLASSICS AT RIVERDALE, we get acquainted with Weber’s technically challenging and melodically satisfying Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B flat Major.

In the process we gladly encounter the superb clarinetist Robert DiLutis and the equally accomplished Mellifera Quartet

We also get to hear the polytonal Sonatina for Clarinet, op. 27 by Miklós Rózsa – not the film music Rózsa mind you but the concert music Rózsa – vaguely atonal, with hints of Debussy here and there and plenty of opportunities for both the clarinet and the quartet to shine.

With Alexander Glazunov’s Rêverie Orientale we get intoxicating exoticism and the superb clarinetist Robert DiLutis dazzling us again with his filigreed work.

Tracks 8 and 9 are given to the Swedish composer Erland von Koch’s Monolog 3 for solo clarinet, a bipartite composition both colorful and accessible.

Heinrich Joseph Baermann’s Adagio for Clarinet and Strings is a short and compellingly meditative piece for the prince of woodwind instruments.

Wilson Osborne’s quietly melodic Rhapsody for Clarinet concludes the CD in a quiet mood.

With a total playing time of sixty minutes, the DELOS CD provides an hour of musical enchantment with off-the-beaten-path music played by five superb artists, recorded at Riverdale House Museum in Riverdale, Maryland, perfectly engineered by Christian Amonson, and elegantly produced by Robert DiLutis himself.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

CCM’s ORCHESTRA CONCERTS

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The largest presenter/producer of performing arts in Ohio, UC’s CCM (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music) (CCM) has just announced its lineup of events for Season 2019-2020, including operas, musicals, plays, dance programs, symphony concerts, jazz evenings, chamber music concerts, and recitals by faculty and students.

$99 Orchestra concerts subscription packages with attractive discounts off single ticket prices can be purchased online at ccmonstage.universitytickets.com, over the phone at 513-556-4183, or in person at the CCM Box Office in the Atrium of UC’s Corbett Center for the Performing Arts

ORCHESTRAL CONCERTS WITH CCM Philharmonia, Mark Gibson, music director

7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20
DVOŘÁK: Slavonic Dance in C Major, Op. 46, No. 1 DVOŘÁK: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53, with Giora Schmidt, violin BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Russian Easter Overture SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 102, with Dror Biran, piano PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1
LISZT: Totentanz SAINT-SAËNS: Carnival of the Animals BRITTEN: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31
BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 81a, “Les Adieux” MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D Major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15
DEBUSSY: Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune RAVEL: Piano Concerto BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique
Louis Langrée, guest conductor

Rafael de Acha     http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

SCHUMANN, MURAIL AND YTHIER.

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Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother in 1880 about his feeling of confinement: “… and men are frequently not able to do much, caged up as they are and unable to say what it’s like to be imprisoned…walled… buried… behind bars…gates…walls…”

In the Song of Songs 4:12 the wise and randy King Solomon wrote – “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.”

Both these texts from opposite ends of the emotional human compass are given musical life in the various compositions by Tristan Murail featured in Une rencontre (msv 28590) a fascinating release by métier where one reencounters the familiar and the new, and the two intertwined as in a felicitous marriage.

Schumann’s 1849 Four Pieces in a Folk Vein, opus 102 and, from the same year, three of his Fantastical Pieces, opus 73 are juxtaposed to 20th century works in an album that climaxes in Schumann’s Childhood Scenes, opus 15 from 1838 in a surprisingly effective setting for cello, piano and flute arranged by Tristan Murail, the prolific French composer who authored fifteen of the album’ tracks.

The title Attracteurs étranges alludes to a mathematical term beyond the limited scope of a review. The music comes from 1992, having premiered in a concert that year honoring Iannis Xenakis’ 70th birthday. Redolent of the Greek composer’s cutting edge sound, and hewing close in its dissonant asperities and its intellectually severe aesthetic to music created within the French Centre for Mathematical and Automatic Musical Studies, Murail’s composition is immensely challenging.

Elsewhere in A Letter from Vincent and in the intriguingly titled You are a secret garden, my sister, my betrothed, you are a not yet flowing spring, a sealed fountain… the composer is heard in a gentler mode, inspired in one case by a friend’s wedding, and in another by a childhood memory of a gift of a book with reproductions of Van Gogh paintings and some of the letters the Dutch master wrote to his brother Theo during his time in France. In both these compositions Murail’s writing gives the impression of being closer to the heart than to the brain, gentler, shunning as the composer himself expresses in his liner notes, “the avatars of serialism.”

Schumann’s Fantastical Pieces and his Four Pieces in a Folk Vein both were written in 1849 at the end of a period of feverish creativity by Schumann though not long before the onset of the recurring symptoms of “neurasthenia” that would eventually lead to his untimely death at the age of 46. The composer’s life-long inner struggle with the primal impulses of his two alter egos, Sebastian and Florestan is barely hinted at in the folksy tunefulness of his Op. 102, though vestiges of it are perceived in Fantastical Pieces, the earlier opus from the same year.

The protean playing of French cellist Marie Ythier evidences utter comfort with the technical challenges of Murail’s Serialism. The young cellist has an uncanny way of switching musical gears in order to inhabit the Ur-Romantic world of Robert Schumann and the contemporary sounds of Murail. Her technique is flawless, her interpretive gifts non-pareil, and her partners, pianist Marie Vermeulin and flautist Samuel Bricault are faultless associates in the ensemble’s chameleonic transitions from Schumann to Murail and on to Murail’s re-conceived Schumann-Murail conflation of Kinderszenen.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

ECKART PREU LEADS THE CINCINNATI CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

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The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra opened its 2019 Summermusik season at the SCPA’s Corbett Theater with Visions of Da Vinci. The program included music by Torelli, Vivaldi and Handel, and either world or Cincinnati premieres of compositions by Michael Nyman, Ludovico Enaudi, Hans-Peter Preu, and Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic.

Addressing the audience at one point during the evening, conductor Eckart Preu alluded to how difficult it had been to program this concert. The parameters were to assemble a two hour-plus program honoring the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death and to find one or more pieces to showcase the talents of Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, the featured solo percussionist.

The concert opened with the Concerto Grosso in G Minor, opus 8, no. 6 by Giuseppe Torelli familiar to some as the Christmas Concerto. While images of Leonardo’s The Adoration of the Magi showed on three screens, the members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra played the concerto’s three movements (listed in the program as four) without pause. Confusing but not consequential.

The next composition in the concert gave two movements from the Concerto Suite from Prospero’s Books, the 1991 film starring John Gielgud. Titled Cornfield and Miranda, the selections gave an idea of Michael Nyman’s compositional style: a kind of European minimalist version of the hyper-American Adams-Glass-Reich styles. The composition called for sustained playing primarily from the strings and the orchestra responded with powerful playing.

Next, and again in a similar minimalist vein, a Cincinnati premiere by Ludovico Enaudi titled Experience once more called for relentless energy from the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra musicians, who played enthusiastically

Fourth in the program, A Mysterious Message, a work commissioned from Hans-Peter Preu, the maestro’s brother, had for its premise the deciphering of a hidden musical phrase hidden in Leonardo’s The Last Supper.

Liquid Video Solutions created the large-scale projections of canvases by Da Vinci, that included, in addition to The Last Supper, The Mona Lisa, and The Adoration of the Magi, a painting of the young Christ, and a couple of drawings with mirror-writing by the Master.

Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Piccolo in C Major arranged by Dame Evelyn Glennie for marimba brought on stage Serbian percussionist Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic. The three-movement gem from Vivaldi’s Il Giardino Armonico is a test in dexterity for any woodwind player: for a percussionist translating Vivaldi’s intricacies into music that uses four mallets and a set of wood blocks to make its point is just about miraculous.

In the second half, the guest soloist returned to play on the xylophone the Cincinnati premiere of his own Rondo da Vinci for marimba and orchestra. Zivkovic dazzled the audience with his virtuosity yet never lapsed into antics, but merely played with focus and commitment as simply one more member of the ensemble.

George Friederic Handel’s Water Music is a set of three suites for orchestra. Eckart Preu programmed the F Major and the D Major Suites, from which he chose five selections from the first one and the entire second one. This was a wise choice to end the evening, with Handel providing joyful, celebratory music that gives the various sections of the orchestra plenty of opportunities to stand out, and the section leaders some nice solo work. Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer set the tone for the entire string section with all the Baroque must haves: controlled vibrato, razor sharp attacks, precise double-dotting, and clear embellishments.

Throughout the concert orchestra members enjoyed some wonderful solo moments. Second Violin section leader Manami White did gorgeous work in the opening Torelli concerto. Cellist Patrick Binford had a stunning solo earlier in the evening. Mark Ostoich created haunting oboe sounds in the Water Music. And, at the end, the arrival of Brooke Ten Napel and Melvin Jackson’s horns and Ashley Hall and Wesley Woolard’s trumpets added the right quotient of Handel brilliance to the ending Bourée.

Keeping the evening from stylistically wandering to and fro was challenging, given the unconventional nature of the program. But Eckart Preu kept things ebbing and flowing with his genial but firm command of his forces. The young maestro moves comfortably from the film music of Nyman and the New Age sounds of Enaudi to the atonalism of Zivkovic and on to the Baroque elegance of Vivaldi, Torelli and Handel. That alone qualifies him in most books and certainly in mine as a conductor to take notice of. Cincinnati has noticed and embraced him.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

ROSSINI’S FORGOTTEN OPERA

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Poor Rossini! By the time he had Barbiere and Cenerentola under his ample belt one would think he would have been free of the financial constraints of his early career. But no, the year was 1819 and here he was 29 and saddled with a contract that obliged him to deliver yet another opera to Venice, a city notorious for a demanding audience that would not brook mediocrity.

And yet, the Venetians had no problem giving a warm welcome to Edoardo e Cristina, so warm a red carpet in fact that the opening night performance ran for six hours due to all the encores the San Bendetto loggionisti demanded from soprano Rosa Morandi as Cristina and contralto Carolina Cortesi in the pants role of Edoardo.

So, how good an opera is it? It is… based on the sum of its ingredients, like a tavola calda at an Italian eatery where you can pick favorites. And I did, full knowing that the bits and pieces I’d pick from this pastiche would surely resurface in any number of Rossini’s 38 other operas. One fabulously good moment is the finale of Act I – Rossini at his best!

Oh, and in case I have failed to impress it on the reader I will clarify: pastiche or pasticcio in Italian is… well… a mish-mash. And that is precisely what Edoardo e Cristina is. The libretto by the unlikely team of Andrea Leone Tottola and Gherardo Bevilacqua-Aldobrandini is a mine field of idiocies, a fact that seemed to have mattered little to Rossini or to a contemporary audience of his.

No matter what its dramatic and musical glitches might be, this is a charming work that provides its principals and a resourceful maestro with a healthy Bel Canto workout. The young, up and coming singers of this recording inhabit their roles comfortably both musically and vocally, and the orchestra and chorus, members of the 2017 Rossini Festival of Bad Wildbad play and sing enthusiastically. Silvia Dalla Benetta sings Cristina in a lovely lyric soprano, and mezzo-soprano Laura Polverelli delivers a sensitively sung Eduardo.

This double CD recording appears to have been made on site in font of a live audience over a three-day period with no engineer credited by ROSSINI IN WILDBRAD.  In this NAXOS release, the sound is distant and muffled, the singers good, and the uniqueness worth s listen.

Rafael de Acha       http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com