It’s celebrations all round as Riccardo Chailly acknowledges Verdi’s bicentenary and his own 60th birthday with a disc of overtures, preludes and ballet music from some of the composer’s best-loved operas (and more than a few of his rarer specimens). Chailly’s crack band is the Filarmonica della Scala – the opera house with which Verdi himself was most closely associated and where Chailly launched his own career. Add to that the fact that Milan is the city where Verdi died and Chailly was born, and it would seem that all the stars are aligned.
The conductor’s genius is to find that special something in the familiar – in this case the preludes from La Traviata and Aida, where he draws such a luminous sound from his string section that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was Wagner. There are some rollicking tub-thumpers too: the prelude to Nabucco and the perky Sinfonia from the seldom-staged Alzira. Drama takes centre stage with the brooding introduction to Gerusalemme (Verdi’s reworking of I Lombardi) and a passionately vibrant Forza del Destino overture.
Chailly gauges everything to perfection and his classy orchestra brings out the detail of Verdi’s orchestration. If I found myself wanting a hint of vulgarity or a Toscanini to scream “louder”, that is a minor quibble. None of the big labels have given us a new complete Verdi opera this year but, in lieu of that, this disc will give his fans a welcome shot of adrenalin.