ROSSINI Overtures = Semiramide; La Gazza Ladra; William Tell; La Cenerentola – Paris Conservatory Orchestra/Peter Maag

HDTT HDCD167 (CD-R, also avail. as 96K/24 DVD-R), 42:24 [] ****:

Everyone wants to surpass Toscanini in the performance of Rossini, but not everyone has the opportunity or the raw talent to do so! Swiss-born conductor Peter Maag (1919-2001) makes a potent bid as a contender for the throne in Rossini pyrotechnics with this transfer from a London Decca 4-track tape, enhanced to marvelous effect via the Symposium process. My only quibble remains with the length of the program–I’d like another 30 minutes’ worth of this super-charged, buoyant fare.

I would have remained true to Sir Thomas Beecham’s rendition of La Gazza Ladra, until this performance with Maag and the Paris Conservatory set my headphones ablaze. The snare drum, the triangle, the brass, and the inflamed string section more than swept me away, so I played the whole overture again. After the pompous opening march, the swirling figures hurl us forward, scherzando, to the repeated, tripping, antiphonal figures that proceed to secure the immaculate repute of “Senior Crescendo.” That the entire sequence repeats only doubles our pleasure. Horn and snare collaborate over deft, vibrant strings and gain a ferocious momentum, a flood of joyous sounds that first taught us to investigate the term “magpie.”

The warm, luminous cello that opens William Tell could just as easily wrought a fine Dvorak concerto. Maag’s pacing is superb, his finesse at pregnant pauses as ripe as his evocation of grand sounds. The ominous tympani receives its due unleashing in the thunderstorm that tries to rival Beethoven for Nature’s violent gymnastics. The now high-definition trumpets and cymbals shake several mighty fists in our ears, and then the sun shines through, the goddess Iris prominent in her aural equivalent of the rainbow. Flute and oboe, clarinet and triangle rarely have basked in their own timbres with such rarified security. And finally–with all due deference to Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels–the ubiquitous cavalry charge in bountiful Technicolor, prestissimo. A crackling whip and no less moves this performance

The overture to Cinderella has always found a soft spot in my own taste, especially as wrought by Toscanini. Maag casts caution to the winds and plays it for its buffo character, its stylish swagger and inflated ceremony. Dazzling staccati from the Paris strings, a sweet trill, too. Hectic, buoyant, and absolutely virtuosic in woodwind detail, the music catches our fancy and swells to empyrean heights, a perfect tempest out of a Disney teapot.  As for the Semiramide, I have ever gravitated to Toscanini, Fricsay, and Beecham (with the Philadelphia Orchestra); but I must state that Maag brings a sober, edgy tension from the very outset, and the HDTT sonic separation does him considerable justice. The sudden climaxes prove quite shattering, busy as they are with all sorts of interior color lines. The linear propulsion, once it sets in, carries with dizzying pyrotechnics and instrumental bravura of the first order. Meteors and cosmic dust strew our musical path, and rarely has a blood-thirsty opera sounded so much, dynamically stratified fun!

— Gary Lemco