MUSIC / Double Play: Facing the inquisitor

VERDI: Don Carlos

Pavarotti, Ramey, Dessi, Coni,

Chorus and Orchestra of

La Scala, Milan / Riccardo Muti

(EMI 7 54867-2 - three CDs)

THIS live La Scala recording isn't economical with the actualite. You hear the fountain in the Queen's Garden, the flames at the auto-da-fe and the audience as they wait for the singing to start. Vocal tone acquires a hard edge in one or two places, and orchestral balance borders on the grotesque. But when the performance is as urgent and dramatically convincing as this, it's hard not to be indulgent.

No live opera performance is going to be ideally polished, but only once - in Carlos and Rodrigo's 'Dio, che nell'alma' duet - did untidiness spoil the effect, as Luciano Pavarotti and Paolo Coni have trouble getting it together, rhythmically speaking, at first. On the whole Coni is a disappointment - not as ardent or shapely as one might hope from a Rodrigo; but he isn't unsympathetic. Samuel Ramey's austere but all-too-human Philip II, Daniella Dessi's warm, expressively rounded Elizabeth and Alexander Anisimov's Grand Inquisitor (a Russian Inquistor - very Dostoyevskian) are all living, musically strong characterisations.

As for Pavarotti, his musical and tonal strengths are evident, and Carlos's constant close-to-the-edge intensity suits him very well. For me, the sound is Pavarotti first and Don Carlos - with a bit of effort - very much second. That won't worry the fans, and for admirers of Don Carlos the addition to the catalogue of a strong, convincing modern recording has to be a plus, even if it is the familiar, cut-down, four-act Italian version that's offered. Those who still find this fascinating, sometimes surprisingly forward-looking score hard to love might find it is a good place to start.

Stephen Johnson

I WOULD have expected Muti to go the distance - meaning the full five-act version. The omission of the original first act seriously compromises the central motivation of the whole piece: the love between Carlos and Elizabeth. Major disappointment number one.

Then there's La Scala itself: glamorous venue, unglamorous acoustic - parched, constrictive. EMI tells it like it is, and Verdi is diminished. More's the pity, for Muti keeps this magnificently brooding score simmering nicely: his grasp of the superstructure is sure, so too his forceful despatch of the dramatic flash-points. When Rodrigo confronts Philip, accusing him of offering only 'the peace of the tomb', the entire orchestra thunders in anticipation of a terrible retribution.

Alas, Muti's Rodrigo, Paolo Coni, is very ordinary indeed - a voice with possibilities but precious little more as yet. More is less with Luciana d'Intimo's Eboli, a cut above the traditional chest- belter so often assigned to the role. She genuinely rediscovers and subtly shades the prodigiously difficult 'O don fatale', and her liberating top, up to thrilling B flat, is fabulous.

Would that Samuel Ramey's Philip were somehow more than it is. His world-weariness, the burden of kingship, is implicit to a point in his searching Act 3 aria. But he lacks the natural authority and gravity of a Christoff or Raimondi. His big scene with the Inquisitor (Alexander Anisimov, whose timbre lends something truly sinister to the role) never quite comes over the footlights. And that feeling persists - until Act 4.

Suddenly, the performance finds itself. Muti unlocks the full intensity of the prelude and Dessi, who earlier made heavy weather of 'Non pianger, mia compagna', comes into her own with a touching account of Elizabeth's great aria. It isn't a special voice, but she sings with fierce conviction, and the Italianate plangency of her timbre has a pathos all its own.

And Pavarotti? Is Pavarotti. When he's on - and he is here - he's on. Never mind the width, feel the quality. Uneven, then, barring that terrific final scene. And I do want the extra act back.

Edward Seckerson

DAVID MATTHEWS:

Symphony No 4

East of England Orchestra /

Malcolm Nabarro

(Collins 20082 - CD single)

THE OLDER of the composing Matthews brothers steers clear of modernism. You are more likely to hear echoes of Tippett, Britten, Shostakovich or even Hindemith than any of today's favourite betes noires. But there are no lazy attempts to court popularity, either.

I'm not sure I'm convinced by everything in his most recent symphony. The parody in the tango movement seems a little effortful in this version. And yet there is an urge to go back and explore, especially the fantastically inventive monody-like first movement, or the nocturnal Andante con moto for muted strings and horn - I would happily have had more of that. The performance sounds authoritative and the recorded sound is first- rate. SJ

DOESN'T every composer want to be Haydn for a day? David Matthews' orchestra is a remarkably good fit; he almost writes four movements, finally giving in to the addition of a distracted Tango replete with ironic, not to say sardonic, violin cadenza. That's a moment to remind us of Matthews' kinship (it's too well absorbed to be an influence) with Britten, Shostakovich, Mahler.

But the spirit of Haydn is alive and well in the gamesmanship, the inquisitive, unbridled nature of the symphony. Haydn might have smiled on its pithy orchestration, still more on its well- tempered unpredictability. The best of its surprises is a first movement whose sparse, seemingly aimless melodising suddenly finds fulfilment in a hothouse of harmony. ES

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style