I Solisti di Perugia

Music for String Orchestra by Italian Opera Composers

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A problem with this Japanese release is that the title, Music for String Orchestra by Italian Opera Composers, actually applies to only two short works on the disc, the two often-recorded sonatas for strings by the young Gioachino Rossini. The opening Concerto in D minor for violin, cello, and orchestra by Donizetti, often called the Double Concerto, has a typical small Classical orchestra of strings and winds, while the last two works on the program are string quartets. Puccini's memorial Chrysanthemums is often performed in the orchestral version heard here but was not originally intended as a work for strings, while Verdi's String Quartet in E minor is a staple of the Romantic quartet repertory. Mislabeling aside, this is an appealing performance of works that are often tacked on to programs of other instrumental music but are rarely brought together. As a collective they offer an interesting chance for speculation on what makes an opera composer -- the Donizetti work, a throwback to the old sinfonia concertante tradition, is characteristically melodic and, in its slow movement especially, easy to mistake for an ingratiating romantic duet sans text. I Solisti di Perugia have a bright, slightly lush sound that's appropriate to the project, and they don't make the mistake of slipping into a homogeneous sound -- the final fugue and the big developmental passages in the first movement of the Verdi sound as appropriately rough as they would played by a string quartet. The liner notes, in Japanese and English, are a bit rudimentary, consisting mostly of biographical notes on the composers, with few indications of how these works fit into their composers' predominantly operatic output. Despite packaging flaws, this is an enjoyable offbeat gift or commute listen for any opera lover.

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