Friday, 3 May 2019

Youthful Verdi revealed: a lithe and impulsive I Lombardi from Heidenheim

Verdi: I Lombardi - Cappella Aquileia, Marcus Bosch - Coviello Classics
Verdi I Lombardi; Pavel Kudinov, Ania Jeruc, Marian Talaba, Leon de la Guardia, Cappella Aquileia, Leon Bosch; Coviello Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 April 2019 
Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Based on live performances at the Heidenheim Festival, this reveals a lithe and impulsive side to Verdi's early opera

Verdi's I Lombardi is one of his early operas which gets the occasional outing but does not quite make it into the main canon. There are significant recordings in the catalogue (Domingo, Deutekom, Raimondi and Gardelli, Pavarotti, Anderson, Ramey and Levine), but this new one from Marcus Bosch and the Capella Aquileia, based on a production at the Heidenheim Festival [see my review] deserves consideration because it is part of a welcome trend for opera companies to re-assess the style of Verdi's early operas. Like the early Verdi productions at the Buxton Festival, Heidenheim produces early Verdi on a small scale, with smaller voices and a lither more, intimate sound. It is a movement which takes these operas on their own terms, rather than back-projecting middle-to-late Verdi onto the early works.

This is the third of Heidenheim's early Verdi series on Coviello Classics, Marcus Bosch conducts the Cappella Aquileia and Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno, with Leon de la Guardia as Arvino, Pavel Kudinov as Pagano, Anna Werle as Viclinda, Ania Jeruc as Giselda, Daniel Dropulja as Pirro, Christoph Wittmann as the Prior of Milan, Andrew Nolen as Acciano, Marian Talaba as Oronte, and Kate Allen as Sofia.

The dramaturgy of I Lombardi is unsatisfactory because Verdi and his librettist Temistocle Solera seem to have been concerned to keep the story highly compressed. The result is an opera which has under two hours of music despite a story which moves across time and distance. In fact, Verdi would return to the themes of I Lombardi in La Forza del Destino though the latter opera is on a far larger scale. The version of I Lombardi performed here is also cut, which does not always help the dramaturgy either.

Based on a highly effective stage performance, Bosch and his forces approach Verdi's opera with style and confidence, unembarrassed by the extreme compression of the music. The style is lithe and impulsive, with the orchestral accompaniment kept light and crisp, so that Verdi's oom-pahs cease to stand out in an over emphatic manner.

Verdi and Solera sought to re-capture the success of Nabucco (their previous opera), and so this piece has plenty of music for the chorus and the Czech Philharmonic Choir makes a strong contribution to this performance with some superbly controlled and finely elegant singing.

None of the soloists on this disc can, perhaps, match the starry names on previous recordings but what all bring to their roles is a secure sense of the style of these early Verdi operas. The music is impulsive, lighter in texture yet with vibrant climaxes, and overall the sound is lithe. Bosch keeps things moving so that the result is sometimes positively headlong, but this keeps these score's strong sense of movement and does not blow the music out of all proportion to its content.

Pavel Kudinov makes a fine intense Pagano, his lithe voice fitting the performance's ethos, and Leon de la Guardia plays his brother Arvino with fine commitment so that the brothers' feud is entirely believable. The other major role is Giselda, Arvino's. Anna Werle plays her with firm conviction and lyrical style. Marian Talaba as Oronte, Giselda's love interest, sings with Italianate tone though sometimes a tendency to push too hard.

There is quite a large cast, many of whom play small but dramatically important roles. Anna Werle is a warm presence as Viclinda, the woman over whom Pagano and Arvino are fighting, with Kate Allen as Sofia, Oronte's mother. Andrew Nolen is Acciano, the ruler of Antioch, with Christoph Wittmann as the Prior of Milan, and Daniel Dropulja as Arvino's squire.

This is not the ultimate I Lombardi, and the cuts may indeed put people off. But the recording benefits enormously from the basis on a live staged performance. Bosch and his forces strip away the later accretions of style, and give us a lithely impulsive version of Verdi, the young man still finding his dramatic way. The opera certain makes mistakes, but the confident style of this performance makes for a highly engaging listen.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) - I Lombardi
Arvino - Leon de la Guardia (tenor)
Pagano - Pavel Kudinov (bass)
Viclinda - Anna Werle (soprano)
Giselda - Ania Jeruc (soprano)
Pirro - Daniel Dropulja (bass)
Prior of Milan - Christoph Wittmann (tenor)
Acciano - Andrew Nolen (bass)
Oronte - Marian Talaba (tenor)
Sofia - Kate Allen (soprano)
Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno
Cappella Aquileia
Marcus Bosch (conductor)
Recorded Festspielhaus Congres Centrum Heidenheim, 15-20 July 2018
COVIELLO CLASSICS COV91901 2 CDs [62.20,  47.21]

Available from Amazon.

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