Meco all´altar di Venere (from Norma) [4:28]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
La fleur que tu m'avais jetée (from Carmen) [3:49]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)
Un dì, all' azzurro spazio (from Andrea Chénier) [4:40]
Quel trouble inconnu me pénètre… Salut! Demeure chaste et pure (from Faust) [5:28]
Jacques Fromental HALÉVY (1799-1862)
Rachel, quand du Seigneur (from La Juive) [5:39]
Vesti la giubba (from I Pagliacci) [4:40]
Plus blanche que la blanche hermine (from Les Huguenots) [6:54]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)
Cielo e mar! (from La Gioconda) [4:13]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Donna non vidi mai (from Manon Lescaut) [2:21]
Recondita armonia (from Tosca) [2:32]
Che gelida manina (from La Bohème) [4:08]
Nessun dorma (from Turandot) [2:52]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
O muto asil del pianto...Corriam (from Guglielmo Tell) [5:57]
Stabat Mater: Cujus animam gementem [5:54]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Di rigori armato il seno (from Der Rosenkavalier) [2:10]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Di quella pira (from Il trovatore) [2:07]
O tu che in seno agli angeli (from La Forza del Destino) [6:06]
Celeste Aida (from Aida) [4:33]
Kurt Baum (1908-89) was born in Brno in the days of the Double Eagle, though his family moved to Cologne when he was an infant. There must have been something about the soil of his birth however because, though a German, he was advised by his father to study medicine in Prague. Here he became, rather amazingly, or maybe not so amazingly when one considers his voice, Czechoslovak amateur heavyweight boxing champion. In 1930 he left to study singing in Berlin, made his debut in Zurich, and then returned to Prague, where he was under contract between 1934 and 1939. He made his American debut in 1939 and two years later was taken up by the Met in New York. He remained based Stateside though made forays back to Europe – once, with Callas, with bruising consequences.
His recordings were few and far between and these for small concerns; we have here the contents of the Allegro Royale LP, ‘A Tenor on the High Cs’ – ho-hum – and some, but not all, of his outing for Remington. There are other items on commercial and private labels, of arias and whole operas, but so far as I know these are the only issued discs specifically under his name.
Now, Baum’s is one of those voices that make hardened critics blanch and weaker auditors reach for the smelling salts. It is the very opposite of a beautiful tone, and sung very much on one level, namely bloody loud. One hesitates to say much more, other than to provide unfamiliar listeners with some markers. The extract from Bellini’s Norma - Meco all´altar di Venere
- is beefy, rugged and frequently unimaginative. But, to act as the defence lawyer, one must also concede that he has a great deal of heft and, on its own terms, excitement. 4 is strenuously delivered, whilst for the prosecution, 6 is unrealistically suited as regards stylistic matters and voice production. 9 is shouted rather brutally. 7 is piercing, and chest-bellowing. One can appreciate that this went over well on stage but recordings tend rather mercilessly to point up the relentless and often undifferentiated nature of his singing. But just now and again one can appreciate why he was popular. 15 has real personality, albeit it’s the very opposite of nuanced singing. And 11, whilst overwrought, the vibrato widening like a castle gate, has a strutting masculine presence.
Overall however the best advice must be to limit oneself to two or three arias at a time lest Baum’s Disease sets in; the symptoms of which are a sense of being battered by a very loud voice with no end in sight, or hearing.