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Così Fan Tutti Cantelli 1956 | IPCD 1083-2
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Reviews for IPCD 1083-2


MOZART Così fan tutte • Guido Cantelli, cond; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Fiordiligi); Nan Merriman (Dorabella); Graziella Sciutti (Despina); Luigi Alva (Ferrando); Rolando Panerai (Guglielmo); Franco Calabrese (Don Alfonso); Ch & O of Piccola Scala • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1083-2 mono (2 CDs: 147:13) Live: Piccolo Scala, Milan 1/27/1956

Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine
September / October 2017

Tragedy strikes with no pity in tow, and so it was with the cruelly curtailed life of Guido Cantelli, Toscanini protégé (the older man never was told that his musical “son” pre-deceased him) and incendiary genius. Cantelli’s perfectionist demands on his performers are the stuff of legend; many readers will, without doubt, be familiar with Laurence Lewis’s book Guido Cantelli: Portrait of a Maestro published in 1981, which I seem to remember (I have long since mislaid my copy) contained a discography. For me, that book inspired a lifelong enthusiasm for Cantelli. Mozart’s Così of course has a light touch, yet it certainly holds its profundities in its explorations of the complexities of that strangest of beasts, love.

So here is Cantelli’s Così, previously issued most famously by La Scala Memories. There is a challenge here that all issues have to contend with: a heater roar, pretty much vanquished in the Immortal Performances pressing. This was, incidentally, only the second opera at Piccolo Scala (the first, Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio segreto, occurred on 12/26/1955).

The lavish Scala presentation is one thing. It is what the sound is like that counts: It presents itself as rather constricted in the Overture; Immortal Performances’s version is fresher, and seems to have more air around it. There is also less compression and distortion in the louder passages in Immortal Performances’s set, while one can hear more soft string detail. Articulation was clearly a Cantelli priority in this overture, something one appreciates more in the most recent release.

We hear the gentleman together early on in the opera (“La mia Dorabella capace non è”). The strings in the Scala version are harsh, especially the first violins, making the Immortal Performances by far the more comfortable for listening. When the voices sing together, the sound in the Scala set tends to buckle under the pressure, whereas the Immortal Performances is altogether a gentler experience.

Luigi Alva’s light, clear “Una bella serenata” is a joy, particularly in the Immortal Performances version where the voice is less colored. As the voices begin to sing together in this section, the greater transparency of the Immortal Performances shines through; we hear, too, the differentiations in string tone from the orchestra far better. Alva’s gloriously honeyed tone in “Un aura amorosa” is better conveyed in the Immortal Performances pressing, while the Scala has a tendency to crowd. This crowding is a recurrent problem with the Scala issue: The final scene of act I seems particularly afflicted, which makes “Dammi un bacio,” sparkling under Cantelli’s urgent direction, a particular pity in the Scala version, and an absolute joy in the Immortal Performances one. An A/B comparison of “Bella vita militar” reveals a similar impression. The chorus is distanced in both, but at least it sounds like a chorus in the Immortal Performances remastering.

It is in the miracle of the trio “Soave sia il vento” (Fiordiligi, Dorabella, and Don Alfonso) that it truly becomes clear that with Immortal Performances one can appreciate this for the moment of genius it is, particularly the harmonic shift at 1:41 (disc 1, track 17). The added steel to the string sound in the Scala version, plus the impression of crowding when the voices enter, effectively spoils the effect. If the harpsichord sounds a touch more distanced in the Immortal Performances version, the whole feels more real. Really to experience the difference between the sets, it is worthwhile comparing the act I quintet, “Sento, o Dio”: colored and just uncomfortable in the Scala presentation, infinitely more pleasing to the ear in that of Immortal Performances, where the voices are contained and clear, with their natural sound beautifully maintained.

This Cantelli Così was a favorite Schwarzkopf performance of the singer’s, one she felt was above her famous studio recording, and she is indeed in fine voice. Her “Come scoglio,” taken at a slow speed, has maximal eloquence, matched in that quality by the Piccolo Scala orchestra’s suave principal oboist. As Dorabella, Nan Merriman is a superb foil to Schwarzkopf, delivering a superbly deft “Smanie implacabili.” Together, they weave magic from another era. The duet at the outset of act I, scene 4 (“Ah! Che tutta in un momento”) is a supreme example of this; and, talking of the supernatural, Cantelli provides a magic carpet of accompaniment underneath. The Immortal Performances set is a decidedly easier listen; the Scala version has sound best described as “plummy,” which impacts the atmosphere generated considerably. The Don Alfonso, Franco Calabrese, has a superb confidence about him (“Alla bella Despinetta”). It is worthwhile comparing the transfers of his “La mano e me date” from act II: immensely pleasurable in the Immortal Performances version, rather dull of sound in the Scala. His nobly delivered “Tutti accusan le donne” is wonderful (and just listen to Alva’s enthusiastic repetition of the opera’s tagline title, “Così fan tutte”). As Giglielmo, Rolando Panerai is superbly eloquent in “Non siate ritrosi,” yet shows his nimble side in the act II aria “Donne mia, la fate a tanti.”

Not known for his comedy perhaps, Cantelli nevertheless lets Mozart’s humor glow at the scene with the “doctor” that closes the first act. Graziela Sciutti blissfully does not over-egg her pudding, still actually sounding like a singer (some productions take this to extremes). Her “Una donna a quindici anni” is a delight, particularly in the less oppressive Immortal Performance transfer; it feels like there is a blanket over the sound in the Scala version on A/B listening. Cantelli also sees Mozart’s longer-term strategies throughout, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the opera’s finale. The Scala pressing sadly seems particularly onerous here, with the muted aspect to the sound robbing it of its very essence of light-filled life.

The real triumph in the Immortal Performances issue lies in the truth of the reproduction of the voices. The act II duet between Fiordiligi and Ferrando, “Fra gli amplessi,” for example, offers some of the sweetest-toned singing one will experience anywhere. Detailed booklet notes with a variety of essays on the genius that was lent to us for such a cruelly short time, Guido Cantelli, complete a release of vital importance. Whether one looks at this release in terms of historical document regarding Piccolo Scala, of Cantelli himself or of a simply brilliant performance of Così, this set must be classed as one of the jewels in Immortal Performances’ crown.


MOZART Così fan tutte • Guido Cantelli, cond; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Fiordiligi); Nan Merriman (Dorabella); Graziella Sciutti (Despina); Luigi Alva (Ferrando); Rolando Panerai (Guglielmo); Franco Calabrese (Don Alfonso); Ch & O of Piccola Scala • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1083-2 mono (2 CDs: 147:13) Live: Piccolo Scala, Milan 1/27/1956

Ken Meltzer
FANFARE magazine
September / October 2017

This January 27, 1956 performance of the last of the Mozart-Lorenzo da Ponte trilogy, Così fan tutte, was broadcast from the stage of the Piccola Scala Theater in Milan. The Piccola Scala Così is the only recorded document of the Italian conductor Guido Cantelli leading a complete operatic performance. By the time Cantelli led this Così, performed in celebration of Mozart’s 200th birthday, the young Italian conductor had firmly established himself as one of the finest and most dynamic young artists of his generation. But on November 24, 1956, Cantelli died in a plane crash shortly after taking off from Paris’s Orly Airport. Cantelli (like Mozart at the time of his untimely death) was only 36 years old. Because Arturo Toscanini greatly admired and identified with Cantelli’s conducting, and did much to champion the young man’s career, these two great artists are often compared to each other. That is a discussion best reserved for another time. Suffice it to say that Guido Cantelli was a brilliant talent, a conductor with extraordinary and patrician musical sensibilities, coupled with the necessary technique and fierce will to achieve his desired results. Although Cantelli’s life and career were far too brief, there is extensive documentation of his artistry in the form of both studio (EMI) and in-performance (Music & Arts, Testament) recordings. The 1956 Così has also previously been issued on several labels devoted to in-performance recordings.

Collectors have long prized the Cantelli Piccola Scala Così fan tutte for the extraordinary quality of the performance, if not its recorded sound. Cantelli was a fiercely demanding perfectionist, and the quality of execution in this live performance is breathtaking. But despite the obvious amount of rehearsal invested, the performance always has a genuine feeling of spontaneity, as if the artists were discovering the miracles of Mozart’s creation for the very first time. In that sense, the Cantelli Così reminds me of the best work of Carlos Kleiber, notably the latter’s performances of La bohème and Der Rosenkavalier. As my colleague Henry Fogel notes in his superb liner notes for the Immortal Performances issue under review, Così fan tutte is an ensemble opera par excellence. And on this occasion, Cantelli had at his disposal six world-class singers, all in prime vocal form, and totally sympathetic to their Maestro’s approach. And that approach was to perform Mozart’s score with absolute respect for the beauty and subtlety of the music, all the while capturing both the comedy and pathos of the story, without ever lapsing into caricature or slapstick. All of the singers also well understand the importance of crystal-clear diction, not only to advance the story, but also to launch and maintain the vocal line. The contributions of the singers are by themselves more than sufficient to recommend this set. But there is also the ravishing, detailed playing Cantelli elicits from the Piccola Scala Orchestra. Indeed, conductor, singers, and orchestra emerge as a unified voice, complementing each other, and thereby giving Mozart’s score its full due (there are some cuts, typical of performances of the time). This is truly a magical performance from start to finish, and one of the finest accounts of Così fan tutte I’ve ever heard. If only the quality of the sonics approached the performance! But alas, the radio broadcast is marred by a cramped, colorless acoustic. And as if matters weren’t bad enough, a furnace used to warm the theater during the January performance creates an omnipresent hum. I’ve heard three prior releases of this broadcast. The Opera d’Oro version filters out a great deal of the lower frequencies, reducing the noise of the heater, but also most of the orchestral detail. A Walhall issue retains the lower frequencies, but also adds what appears to be artificial resonance, again detracting from the orchestra’s contribution. The official La Scala issue of the performance neither filters out the lows nor adds resonance, but the overall sound is harsh, artificial, and metallic.

The new Immortal Performances release represents by far the best sonic restoration I’ve heard of the Cantelli Così. Producer Richard Caniell has managed through painstaking work to remove the continuous hum caused by the furnace, without resorting to noticeable filtering. There is more tape surface noise in this version than the others I’ve heard. But the welcome tradeoff is the best representation by far of the orchestra’s contribution to this performance. And, given the magic conjured by Cantelli and the Piccola Scala Orchestra, that is a necessary component for a full appreciation of this important document. The singers too emerge with greater definition and tonal beauty. In addition to Henry Fogel’s essay on Mozart’s opera and this performance, the booklet includes a plot synopsis, singer bios, a brief history of Piccola Scala, Richard Caniell’s Recording Notes, B. H. Haggin’s memorial appreciation of Cantelli, a further essay on the conductor by Caniell, and performance and artist photos. The recorded sound on the Immortal Performances release still does not approach the quality of studio recordings of the era. But at long last, the totality of the unique and transcendent achievement by Cantelli, his superb team of vocal soloists, and the Piccola Scala forces may be savored in its entirety, with no need to rely upon one’s imagination. Recommended, with gratitude to Richard Caniell and Immortal Performances.

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