Lawrence Foster’s ‘stirring direction’ of Verdi’s Otello

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COMPOSERS: Guiseppe Verdi
LABELS: PentaTone
ALBUM_TITLE: Verdi Otello
WORKS: Otello
PERFORMER: Nikolai Schukoff, Melody Moore, Lester Lynch, Kevin Short, JunHo You; Gulbenkian Chorus & Orchestra/ Lawrence Foster
CATALOGUE_NO: PTC 5186 662 (hybrid CD/ SACD)

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Lawrence Foster returns here to the Lisbon-based orchestra whose principal conductor he was between 2002 and 2013. In Verdi’s demanding score, Foster’s stirring direction offering an unstoppable sense of momentum as well as highlighting much of the work’s enriching detail, to which his players respond with precision and vivid attack.

But Otello is not merely one of the major operatic challenges for all concerned, but a highly competitive market on disc. All three of the principals deliver honourable, quality performances, but none of them is able to equal – let alone surpass – some of the best available interpretations. Nevertheless, mixed Austro-Hungarian (as he describes himself) Heldentenor Nikolai Schukoff is a convincing exponent of the title-role, deliberate and controlled, if in the final analysis somewhat bland and lacking in dramatic stature. As Iago, Lester Lynch presents a thought-through exploration of the role, with some of its psychological complexity registering; but even though he’s clearly on the way to something remarkable as yet there’s not enough nuance. Melody Moore knows how to shape Desdemona’s line and her account blends passion and containment; at her best, as in the Willow Song and Ave Maria, she sounds vocally vibrant and thoroughly engaged.

The secondary roles are all decently done, though JunHo You’s harsh tenor compromises his otherwise cleverly sketched-in Cassio. The choral singing is clear and full-throated. One of the set’s undoubted assets is its superior recording quality, notable for bright, forward sound, sharp definition and a wide range.

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George Hall