Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Jean-Pierre Lafont bass-bar Falstaff
Hillevi Martinpelto sop Alice Ford
Rebecca Evans sop Nannetta
Sara Mingardo mez Mistress Quickly
Eirian James mez Meg Page
Antonello Palombi ten Fenton
Francis Egerton ten Bardolph
Anthony Michaels-Moore bar Ford
Gabriele Momci bass Pistol
Peter Bronder bass Dr Caius
Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique I Sir John
Eliot Gardiner
PHILIPS 462 603-2PH2 [121 mins]
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This was taken into the studio after a series of semi-staged performances, probably a wise decision because some of the period instruments of Gardiner's Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique are notoriously unreliable and difficult to manage securely. But it is they that give the new recording a special claim to attention, indeed it is indispensable for those who would wish to explore in depth this miracle of old age. The cor anglais and clarone have special qualities, as do the bass clarinet and the monstrous valveless corno di caccia. You are kept on your toes savouring unfamiliar, pungent instrumental tones and Gardiner's whole conception is swift and driving onwards, with brazen fortissimos, and quicksilver precision to keep you as alert as is he.

I enjoyed best the last Act in the forest, with its magical make-belief and the delicious little aria of the Queen of the Fairies; the elaborate charade was not hard to visualise. Earlier, I missed the rough and tumble of the stage action; the libretto with translations is provided, but you try following the words in the great ensemble towards the end of the laundry basket scene, when everyone sings and plays with breathless haste all at once for pages on end - I found myself marvelling at the task of writing down all those notes at the composer's time of life.

The singers are good yet not quite good enough to banish comparisons, rather light-weight in the cases of Falstaff himself and his messenger of ill fortune Mrs Quickly, whose flattery he can never resist, and the Ford has not enough force with which to deliver his jealous fury. The little interludes snatched by the young lovers are not as meltingly lovely as can be. Buy it by all means, but not as your only Falstaff.

To finish with unpardonable heresy, I have to confess enjoying more that much earlier Falstaff, by that unfairly despised non-murderer of Mozart. The Salieri Falstaff, to the same Merry Wives of Windsor, is so well produced and filmed from Schwetzingen Palace that the DVD (ARTHAUS 100 022) rewards repeated Viewing and Listening, with the boon of subtitles in a choice of languages.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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