This BBC Legends release, though perhaps not intended as such,
is a very nice advance tribute to Victoria de los Angeles who, incredibly,
will be eighty in 2003. The title of Alan Blyth’s liner note (excellent,
as usual) is really apposite. He calls her "an Entrancing Singer".
So she was, as this CD demonstrates.
The majority of the CD comes from an Edinburgh Festival
in 1957 when she was accompanied by the accompanist par excellence,
Gerald Moore. De los Angeles was one of that very select band of singers
with whom, by his own admission, Moore had a very special rapport and
it shows here.
Having said that, neither singer nor pianist is quite
at their best in one of the opening items in this particular recital.
The first piece, a rather slight song by Scarlatti, is fine but, as
Alan Blyth notes, there are some "smudges" in Moore’s playing
of the second item, the Handel aria. I also felt that Miss de los Angeles
did not sound quite at ease here; her English is too accented to allow
for her trademark clear diction (which is well in evidence elsewhere).
Next comes a group of lieder. It’s a bit unusual to
hear a woman singing a song from Die Schöne Müllerin. However,
de los Angeles sweeps any reservations aside with her eager vivaciousness.
As Alan Blyth justly observes in his notes (which are tantamount to
a review) the pair of Brahms songs brings out the best in her. She conveys
exquisitely the yearning wistfulness of ‘Nachtigall’ and is urgent and
impetuous in ‘Mein Liebe ist grün’.
French repertoire was always a great strength of Victoria
de los Angeles as is shown amply in this recital. I find it hard to
warm to Stravinsky’s quirky ‘Pastorale’, though Miss de los Angeles
floats its line beautifully. The Ravel piece is a different matter.
It is, I submit, a finer song and its Mediterranean languor suits her
voice perfectly. She savours it, giving a charismatic performance. Just
as persuasive is her account of Duparc’s great song which is placed
next. She delivers this masterpiece with superb poise and ecstatic fervour.
Gerald Moore’s accompaniment is pretty marvellous too; he provides as
much light and shade as the singer does.
The disc also includes seven Spanish songs (and one
Iberian encore). Unfortunately, this part of the recital throws into
sharp relief BBC Legend’s lamentable failure to provide texts and translations
for vocal items. This has been a constant criticism (from many sources)
ever since this series was launched. It seems to me that this label
is one of the most important sources of archive recordings, yet time
after time vocal releases are hobbled by this cheeseparing practice.
The booklet announces that texts and translations are available on the
IMG website but when I first received this disc for review I checked
and found only three of the texts had been loaded. Even now, at the
time of completing this review several weeks later, only three more
have been added and none of the texts concerned are those of the less
familiar, Spanish items. In any case, I don’t think that website texts
are the answer. Even if a listener has web access (which many don’t)
this is not a convenient way to address the issue. Someone listening
to a vocal item needs ready and easy access to the text and a
translation. I could perhaps understand the label’s policy if these
discs were being retailed at super budget price but they are offered
at the upper end of the mid-price bracket and are being positioned as
important historical issues. It’s high time BBC Legends got their act
together in this respect. Why spoil otherwise excellent releases in
I make this point because the Spanish songs in this
collection were new to me and I guess they will be to many other collectors.
I’m afraid it’s all but impossible to comment on the performances adequately
save to say that they sound authentic, spirited and idiomatic
(as one would expect). I can report, however, that the singing qua
singing is uniformly excellent with superb breath control, an abundance
of tonal variety, a consistently bright, forward delivery and every
indication that Miss de los Angeles is thoroughly enjoying every moment.
There is a real Spanish tang in her voice. Her singing, and Moore’s
accompaniments are hugely enjoyable and, I suspect, very witty and sharply
observed. Even without the texts I especially enjoyed the vivacious,
infectious ‘El retrato de Isabela’ (track 13) and the poignant ‘Montañesa’
(track 14). In ‘Chiquitita la novia’ (track 16) Gerald Moore’s playing
is brilliantly suggestive of a flamenco guitar and I suspect the vocal
characterisation in this number was especially acute – certainly the
audience lapped it up!
The three Berlioz songs were recorded four months earlier
(was the complete cycle not performed?) Unfortunately, the recorded
sound, very satisfactory in the Edinburgh items, is a serious handicap
here. It sounds as if the performance took place at the far end of a
large swimming pool! Miss de los Angeles’ singing is involved, especially
in the miraculous ‘Le spèctre de la rose’ (track 20), and is
well projected. However, the accompaniments, though serviceable, lack
the lustre of the support from Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony
on the same singer’s marvellous 1955 RCA studio recording (perhaps inevitably)
and the backward recording certainly does not advance the BBC Symphony’s
cause. No, I fear this sonically compromised recording does not add
anything to our knowledge of Victoria de los Angeles’ interpretation
of these songs.
The real value of this release lies in the Edinburgh
Festival items and all admirers of this great singer will want to acquire
it for these alone. For making this Edinburgh recital generally available
BBC Legends merit a gold star though they also attract a big black mark
for failing to provide texts and translations. This omission is a serious
one and, despite the manifold pleasure of Miss de los Angeles’ singing
(and Gerald Moore’s accompaniments) prevents me from giving the unqualified
recommendation this important and enjoyable release would otherwise