Leoncavallo I Pagliacci

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Leoncavallo I Pagliacci

  • Pagliacci, 'Players'
  • Pagliacci, 'Players'

Karajan’s Pagliacci is a classic, not only a very fine performance but one filled with a Northern European’s deep enjoyment of the score’s impassioned Latin lyricism and a perfectionist’s insistence on the painstaking moulding of detail. You hear both immediately in the orchestral introduction (superb orchestral playing, plangent strings), and soon after in the Prologue’s crucial phrase “un nido di memorie” – “a host of memories”: it is very slow, extremely quiet, sung in mezza voce, memorably poetic.
In Gardelli’s recording Merrill is in even finer voice than Taddei, but neither he nor his conductor catches this quality. The contrast is even greater when it comes to the tenor and the soprano. Bergonzi sings with great expressiveness but also with fine line and no lapses into melodrama. McCracken is melodrama incarnate, overwrought from the outset, distorting the rhythms and barking with hysterical vehemence. Neither Carlyle nor Lorengar is obvious casting for Nedda, but Karajan’s subtlety (the final section of her duet with Silvio begins pianissimo, ends as a rapt whisper) enables Carlyle to make her a more rounded character than usual, while Lorengar’s tremulous flutter evokes restlessness but little else. Krause, too, is a less seductive Silvio than Panerai. Karajan, above all, excels in demonstrating how much quiet delicacy there is in the score as well as raw emotion. With markedly less polished orchestral playing, Gardelli finds much less of either quality.
Both recordings are decent, but the DG is far more atmospheric than its rival. To clinch matters Belart provide only the sketchiest of plot summaries. No contest.'

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