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Sir Edward Downes - Verdi's orchestral music

VERDI: Complete Overtures, Preludes and Ballet Music.
BBC Philharmonic/Sir Edward Downes.


For many of us the recent death in Switzerland of Sir Edward Downes (July 1934 - July 2009), together with his wife, touched us deeply. He had for long decades been a fixture in our musical and operatic lives, and his great career has been celebrated in the obituaries. They lived locally and were to be seen at SE London musical events - we even once considered buying their Blackheath residence, and met there his son, then a ballet student with Royal Ballet, now a recording engineer...

To remember him in music, this Verdi mid-price reissue, with full notes by John Steane, is an ideal way to recall him, a survey of Verdi without the singers; only very recently had we welcomed his Royal Opera House DVD of Strauss' Salome with Maria Ewing. Sir Edward, alongside his over fifty years association with The Royal Opera, had forty years with the BBC Philharmonic (Principal Conductor 1980-91) and these recordings were made at their Manchester base, New Broadcasting House, 1996-1999.

Taken a few at a time, the Overtures map Verdi's chronological development until he abandoned overtures for his last two operas.*

During the nineteenth century opera performances began with an overture, spotlighting the orchestra before the stage claimed attention (my sister, a professional musician, always thought curtain up was the most exciting moment in an evening out...). In our youth concerts too were most often started with an operatic overture, a vanished custom that many older concertgoers recall with nostalgia. But they are exceptional now, so this boxed set fills a gap.

The recordings, in association with the BBC, are excellent and there will be some revelations (different versions included) for everyone; and the sequence of overtures is nicely leavened with the ballet sequences.

A self-recommending re-release, one which Verdians and Downes' admirers will want to catch up with.

Peter Grahame Woolf

" - - the unqualified recommendation for a complete survey of Verdi's orchestral works." [MusicWeb]

*See Sir Edward conducting the Overture to Stiffelio at Covent Garden