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George London - 1953
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Le nozze di Figaro (1786) - Se vuol ballarea [3’25]; La vendettab [3’03]; Non più andraib; Vedrò, mentr’io sospirob [4’41]; Aprite un po’ quegl’occhia [4’08]. Concert Ariasb - Mentre ti lascio, K513 (1787) [8’02]; Per questa bella mano, K612 (1791) [7’46]; Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, K584 (1789) [4’55].
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Aida (1871) - Ciel, mio padre!c [8’09].
Alexander BORODIN (1833-87)

No sleep, no restd (1887, sung in Russian) [7’45].
Richard WAGNER (1813-83)

Die Walküre (1870) - Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kindd [15’20].
George London (baritone); cAstrid Varnay (soprano); abColumbia Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter (aharpsichord); George Neikrug (cello, K612); cdBavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hermann Weigert.
Rec. abLos Angeles, California, on 7-8 May 1953, Bavarian broadcasts of 3d, 5c Oct 1953. mono ADD
PREISER 90580 [71:10]


Canada-born US citizen George London is celebrated in this superb issue. We are lucky indeed that his partner in the Mozart items is no less a figure than the great Bruno Walter whose Mozartian credentials hardly need reiteration here. Possibly we are less lucky that the baton-wielding accompanist in the disc’s balance is Hermann Weigert.

The Mozart arias were recorded in Los Angeles - all items date from 1953, hence the cover).

The track listing tells us that ‘Se viol ballare’ is the first thing we hear. In fact, it is the preceding recitative that tickles the ear (from ‘Bravo, Signor padrone’) and the aria proper (‘Se vuol ballare’) begins almost exactly a minute in. The harpsichordist for the recitative is Walter himself. London is smooth as velvet, placing notes superbly.

‘La vendetta’ begins with a fine, assertive ‘La’ on ‘La vendetta’ from London. Such a shame voice and orchestra disagree as to the starting post, as this is a remarkably involving account. London’s attention to words - both diction and contexted meaning - is more than exemplary. Try the third Figaro aria (‘Non più andrai’) to hear how every word is a model of clarity, yet not one sounds studied. This is very involving Mozart, making one, well, me, at least, forget any period objections that might flit by.

If there are objections, maybe they will be found to be most pronounced at the outset of ‘Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro’, which initially feels on the sticky side; compare and contrast the dramatic arioso that opens track five, before the onset of the aria ‘Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi’ (aria starts at 1’27). The Concert Aria Mentre ti lascio, o figlia shows how the combination of London and Walter can work supremely well, from orchestral playing of the utmost delicacy to London’s imposing presence - yet always within the Mozartean orbit. There is a real sense of drama here, contrasting with the warmly lyrical K612, where London seems to be a true bass in his depth of tone. The more active Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo sounds as if straight from Figaro and includes some amazing violin playing around 0’35. The climax is impressive.

London and Astrid Varnay in Aida strike sparks off each other. London is marvellously imposing; Varnay matches him all the way. It is a meeting of equals; the result is fascinating. Varnay is in superb, cutting voice. This track, more than any other on the disc, crackles with electricity thanks to the vocalists - perhaps Weigert could have breathed a more Verdian air. The dark colours of the Borodin make a perfect contrast. London sings with great lyric breadth, touchingly, as if born to sing this.

If I have dwelt at length on the first ten tracks, it is not to demean the importance of the final one, the Wagner. Maybe many would forecast London’s authority here. And they would be right. Although Weigert cannot match London in interpretative intensity, the orchestra remains impressive. But it is London that carries this, from his initial outburst of ‘Leb’ wohl’ through to the heart-breaking ‘Der Augen leuchtendens Paar’, taking in some, for once, perfect pitching on the words ‘als ich, der Gott’. The call to Loge is perhaps predictably but no less thrillingly impressive. London’s diction is quite simply incredible at this point. The only down point is perhaps Weigert’s adequate but not inspiring accompaniment.

All lovers of great Wagner singing should own this disc. In fact it is worth it for the last quarter of an hour alone. Do bear in mind that the delights of the rest of its duration are many, though.

Colin Clarke

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