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Great Tenor Arias
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) La donna e mobile (Rigoletto) [3:34] Alfredo Kraus (ten) Philharmonia Orchestra/Julius Rudel (rec.1979); Celeste Aida (Aida) [4:49] Jose Carreras (ten) Vienna Philharmonic/Herbert von Karajan (rec.1980); Di quella pira (Il Trovatore) [2:02] Franco Corelli (ten) Chorus and Orchestra of Rome Opera House/Thomas Schippers (rec.1965); Ingemisco (Requiem) [3:43]
Luciano Pavarotti (ten); Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Riccardo Muti (rec.1987)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924) Recondita armonia (Tosca) [2:53] Placido Domingo (ten) National Philharmonic/Eugene Kohn (rec.1990); E lucevan le stelle (Tosca) [2:59] Carlo Bergonzi (ten) Orchestra of Rome Opera House/Thomas Schippers (rec.1965) Che gelida manina (La Boheme) [4:29]Nicolai Gedda (ten) Orchestra of Rome Opera House/Thomas Schippers (rec.1964) Dovunque al mondo (Madame Butterfly) [2:59] Jussi Bjoerling (ten), Mario Sereni (bar) Orchestra of Rome Opera House/Gabriele Santini (rec.1961); Nessun dorma (Turandot) [4:10]
Jose Carreras (ten); Strasbourg Philharmonic/Alain Lombard (rec.1978)
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945) Viva il vino spumeggiante (Cavalleria rusticana) [3:08] Jose Carreras (ten) Julia Hamari (mezzo) Ambrosian Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti (rec.1980); Tutto ho tentato (L’amico Fritz) [3:11]
Luciano Pavarotti (ten); Chorus and Orchestra of Covent Garden. Gianandrea Gavazzeni (rec.1968)
Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948) Gern hab ich die Frau’n geküsst (Paganini) [3:17] Nicolai Gedda (ten) Bavarian Symphony Orchestra/Willi Boskovsky (rec.1977); Da geh’ ich zu Maxim (Merry Widow) [2:53]
Nicolai Gedda (ten); Graunke Symphony Orchestra/Willy Mattes (rec.1967)
Georges BIZET (1838-1875) La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (Carmen) [4:16]
Jon Vickers (ten); Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos (rec.1970)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Un’ aura amorosa (Cosi fan tutte) [4:44]
Alfredo Kraus (ten); Philharmonia Orchestra/Karl Böhm (rec.1963)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Fra poco a me ricovero (Lucia di Lammermoor) [3:38]
Alfredo Kraus (ten); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicola Rescigno (rec.1984)
Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916) Marechiare [3:25]
LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919) Mattinata [2:06]
Giuseppe di Stefano (ten); Orchestra/Gian Mario Guarino (rec.1961)
Rudolf SIECZYNSKI (1879-1952) Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume [4:51)
Placido Domingo (ten); English Chamber Orchestra. Julius Rudel (rec.1986)
Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812-1883) Ach so fromm (Martha) [2:47]
Fritz Wunderlich (ten); Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Berislav Klobucar (rec.1960)
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 0946 3 82618 2 7 [70:23]


We’ve all seen these sorts of compilations many times, and it’s pretty obvious what market they’re aimed at. They tend to make good Christmas presents for your mum or Classic FM newcomers to this sort of repertoire, cheap and cheerful, with a string of good tunes. This one is better than some, with a generally excellent selection of arias and, it’s fair to say, most of the very greatest tenor voices of the last forty years represented. It’s been available before, but is now repackaged and with a few additions. Whether you agree with who’s in and who’s out will be very personal, and of course they’re only from the EMI catalogue so some of these same artists’ classic versions for other labels, notably Decca and RCA, are absent. Still, I had few complaints regarding music and performances, so here are a few of my own highlights.

As the disc opens with Alfredo Kraus, let’s start there. He was a natural for the Duke in Rigoletto, suave, stylish and oozing charm from every pore. I believe he recorded the complete opera at least four times and individual arias on a number of compilation albums. This comes from 1979, so the voice is not quite as fresh as it was for Solti in 1963, a set I still swear by. You can compare the younger Kraus in Böhm’s blue chip classic Cosi recording from that very same year, where Mozart’s line simply floats effortlessly. The Donizetti is from over twenty later, edging towards the end of his career, but he never could really sing badly, it’s just the upper tessitura that shows a tad more strain and spread of vibrato.

It’s also good to hear another supreme stylist, Nicolai Gedda in his best sort of repertoire. The Lehar extracts are delectable, and I particularly love Boskovsky’s witty, echt-Viennese accompaniment in the famous Paganini extract. I suppose Bjoerling fans may wonder why his Rodolfo is not here, but Gedda’s superb ‘Che gelida manina’ can stand comparison with any, as can Schippers’ subtle orchestral backing.

Considering what’s happened to José Carreras, it’s nice to be reminded of just how good he was in his prime. I always liked the Karajan 1980 Aida, and Carreras’s ‘Celeste Aida’ is intelligent and well phrased, but his virile Turiddu in Cav from the same year is even better, and this version often comes out top in surveys, especially for Muti’s red-blooded conducting. Carreras also gets the ‘Nessun dorma’ that inevitably ends the disc, and while it’s OK, for me a number of the other tenors in this one would have been preferable, though it’s worth pointing out that some critics have felt Lombard’s rather stiff conducting marred this Turandot and prevented the cast from giving of their best.

My favourite lyric tenor, Fritz Wunderlich, gets one aria, the German version of ‘M’appari’, and wonderful it is too. What a supreme legato phrasing he had and like many others opera lovers, not many days go by when I don’t lament his premature passing.

Domingo recorded the role of Cavaradossi in Tosca three times (with Mehta, Levine and Sinopoli) but this ‘Recondita armonia’ is a bit lacklustre, a feeling highlighted by the inclusion of Bergonzi’s marvellous ‘E lucevan le stelle’, showing how it should be done. Like many other artists here, Domingo is incapable of really bad singing, but his best stuff was probably for other labels. He is far more engaging in the one piece Rudolf Sieczynski is known for, ‘Vienna, City of my Dreams’ a chunk of pure nostalgia written as Europe descended into chaos in 1914.

As I said above, one might regret the omission of extracts from Bjoerling’s classic Beecham Boheme, especially as his Butterfly wasn’t as good. Still, the voice is glorious even if the interpretation of Pinkerton was a little bland, at least for my taste.

It’s good to hear Pavarotti in 1968 vintage and realize what all the fuss was about. This L’amico Fritz was his first studio recording, and I can hardly imagine this aria being sung better, though the Covent Garden chorus is fairly consistently flat. He’s also good in the ‘Ingemisco’ from Muti’s live 1987 Verdi Requiem, even if I prefer his earlier 1967 Decca assumption with Solti.

It’s also a pleasure to hear de Stefano singing as to the manner born in the Neapolitan songs, and Jon Vickers’ rather gritty toned Don José making sure he ends his ‘Flower Song’ piano instead of belting out the final rising cadence. Talking of ‘can belto’, who better than Franco Corelli to show us how it should be done in a rousing ‘Di quella pira’, again with the much-missed Thomas Schippers providing taut orchestral accompaniment.

The cleaned up recordings range from very good to OK, with some of the earlier ones showing congestion and hints of distortion on the high notes. Some extracts were recorded as such with ‘concert’ endings, and some fade rather crudely from complete recordings. The last item, ‘Nessun dorma’ jumps from Carreras’s ending to Alfano’s choral ending from the full opera, again rather ham-fistedly. The flimsy booklet simply lists the arias and gives the briefest description of where it fits in the opera. Still, this dirt cheap collection is what it is, and there’s some obvious enjoyment to be had from sampling so many potboilers and so many great voices. Oh, and if you’re wondering who’s on the cover painting, apparently it’s Spanish tenor Florenco Constantino dressed for the part of Verdi’s Ernani around 1910.

Tony Haywood




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