Gioachino Rossini was a funny guy. With the exceptions of a few serious, unsuccessful early operas and a serious, supremely successful final opera, he wrote funny music with sassy melodies and snappy rhythms for funny operas with witty characters and clever plots. When his overtures are performed with élan, aplomb, and panache, there are few composers as guaranteed to raise a smile as Rossini.
But not here: while Fritz Reiner was many things -- a great conductor, a great interpreter, and a great orchestra builder, he was not a funny guy and these are not funny performances. Recorded in 1958, his collection of six overtures with his Chicago Symphony Orchestra are played with vigor, brilliance, and power, but completely without élan, aplomb, and panache. Imagine the brawny Beethoven or the witty Haydn reimagined as a burley and ironic Italian composer and you have some idea what to expect. Imagine The Barber of Seville as a beefy bore. Imagine Cinderella as a muscular drab. Imagine The Thieving Magpie as a massive vulture. Even in the Overture to Rossini's final opera, the serious William Tell, Reiner and the Chicago turn in a performance of such ponderous gravity that Beethoven's Egmont and Haydn's Creation seem light and effervescent beside it. RCA's original stereo sound was strong and vivid. RCA's digital remastering is a slightly faded copy of the magnificent original.