For his first opera production, Dario Fo, the theatre director known for his brilliant wit, chose to stage Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia for the Netherlands Opera. First mounted in 1987, it was a huge success and a live recording of its revival in May 1992, the 200th anniversary of Rossini's birth, has been made. Fo has said that 'Rossini is the musician of eating and love. He composes music rich in herbs and aromas, in which you find olives, tomatoes, fish, grapes, roses and rosemary, sheets and tablecloths, dry wine and the laughter of girls.' His 'Barbiere' is a joyful carnival. During the overture he fills the stage with carnival revellers and immediately the commedia dell'arte origins of opera buffa are restored. Visual theatrics abound, never at the expense of the music, but highlighting it, engaging the eye as well as the ear. Fo addresses the heart more than the intellect and Rossini's comedy comes up dazzling and vital.
Listening to this, it's easy to believe that June Tabor was made to sing these old border ballads, tales of the uneasy coexistence of families in the marches between England and Scotland. Her dark voice is well-suited to the texts, which are often bloody and vengeful, and quite certainly epic – in some respects, the very essence of British balladry, whether it's "The Battle of Otterburn," with its gloriously textured Kathryn Tickell arrangement, or the demanding "The Duke of Athole's Nurse," where Martin Simpson is reunited with Tabor, his guitar offering shining counterpoint to her voice. The songs, tried and tested over the centuries, are wonderful in themselves, but Tabor's presentation of them brings them fully to life, like "The Cruel Mother." Harrowing at the best of times, it becomes pure torment in her hands. And her "Sir Patrick Spens" makes the old Fairport Convention version sound like a playground romp. Intensity has always been one of Tabor's fortes, and here she takes full advantage of the opportunity to indulge it.
The Deutsche Schalmey has occupied a shadowy place in music history, not quite a shawm, not quite an oboe. This disk gives it a real existence, and presents it very pursuasively, with well played, idiomatic music. The sound is what you would expect with characteristics of the oboe and shawm mixed together.
Composer Charles Koechlin, 1867-1950, one of the underrated geniuses of modern music, has written some of the most challenging, thrilling and interesting music for the modern flute. The dynamic range of his music, from passionate lyricism to explosive, angular motifs has been a great gift to the modern flute, extending its range and expressivness.