Theodore Deacon | Seattle, WA United States | 12/02/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a musician who has studied Verdi's operas for decades I am astonished at how fine a recording this bargain Naxos set is. Indeed, I recommend it above all other modern complete sets available. Yes, for pure singing the Bjorling/Milanov RCA set has the edge and the classic Callas has a memorable sense of melodrama. What this set has, though, is a greater sense of Verdian style. Humburg is simply marvelous in how he shapes his phrases, follows seamlessly with the singers' grasp of character, and is superbly sensitive to Verdi's markings. (No, the finale is not a mistake. Verdi intended for Di Luna to have the last word. Humburg has the musical taste to ignore bad tradition and deliver what the composer actually wrote. He does stretch things a tad, but well within the limits of the score. The effect is electrifying.) The singers may not have the plushest of voices on disc, but just listen to how detailed and alert they are with the text and dynamics. Servile is brilliant throughout - a true (and rare) Verdi baritone with an attractive brightness and ring at the top of his voice and no trace of wooly tone. Longhi has the technique to handle the contrasts in Leonora's divergent styles while still creating a feminine and vulnerable character - essential elements that eludes other, more famous singers (Callas excluded). The Azucena, Irina Tschistiakova has a distinct vibrato but knows how to focus her sound to enliven the text. Frusoni's Manrico is not nearly as elegant as Bjorling's (then again, neither is Domingo in his sets) but has a decent enough line to make "Ah si, ben mio" lyrically convincing. Above all his textual pointing is spot on. I will continue to favor the old Cellini RCA set, but I will return again and again to Humburg for textual completeness, modern sound, and keen Verdian style."