VERDI Macbeth – Abbado
Four years ago, when the EMI version appeared on two CDs at mid price, I suggested that, to be competitive, the DG/Abbado would have to follow suit. At last it has done so, as part of the Originals series. On comparing the two sets, made at roughly the same time, I was on this occasion struck by one startling contrast in approach. On the Muti recording we are presented with a sound-picture suggesting a theatrical ambience and a performance to accompany it that depends on grand, opera house gestures. By contrast DG and Abbado opt for a more confined acoustic and a much more intimate performance. In their crucial Act 1 duet, Cappuccilli and Verrett seem to be communing with themselves and with us in the privacy of our home; Milnes and Cossotto on EMI are more extrovert, directing their interpretations to the mid-stalls. As between these principals I do not budge from my previous verdicts that Cappuccilli has a better focused tone than Milnes and that the Italian baritone gives us a more haunted, subtle portrayal of the Thane. Verrett matches him in nuance, but vocally she is no match for Cossotto’s Italianate tone and brio for Muti. As for the rest, Ghiaurov is to be preferred, as Banquo, to Raimondi (EMI); honours are equal between the two starry Macduffs.
This time I felt that Abbado just had the edge over Muti because of the slight superiority of his La Scala forces over their British counterparts, while the DG recording offers us marginally more detail. Don’t entirely rule out of the equation the RCA set where Rysanek’s superior singing and acting and Warren’s compelling Macbeth remain in the frame; so even more do Nilsson and Taddei (best of all Macbeths) on the Decca/Schippers set, if you can find it in the shops, an arresting performance despite minor excisions. But a newcomer won’t find much fault with this Abbado set, scrupulously prepared, executed and recorded.'