Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879 – 1957)
1. L’Antouèno (Vol.2 No.5) [3:14]
2. Pastourelle (Vol.2 No.1) [4:32]
3. L’aîo dé rotso (Vol.1 No.3a) [1:10]
4. Baîléro (Chant de bergers de Haute-Auvergne) (Vol.1 No.2) [5:19]
5. Passo del prat (Vol.3 No.2) [3:25]
6. Malurous qu’o uno fenno (Vol.3 No.5) [1:26]
7. Brezairola (Vol.3 No.3) [3:34]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887 – 1959)
Bachianas Brasileiras No.5
8. Aria: Cantilena [7:03]
9. Danza: Martelo [4:33]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
10. Vocalise Op.34 [7:06]
Anna Moffo (soprano)
American Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. April 1964, Manhattan Center, New York City, USA
Liner notes but no song texts
NEWTON 8802085 [41:22]
Equipped with one of the most beautiful soprano voices of the post-war era, blessed with film-star looks and considerable acting talent, Anna Moffo had a fairly short career, retiring while still in her early forties due to vocal breakdown. The reason was an excessive workload. She made a comeback a few years later but by then the lustre of her tone was gone. When making this recording she was still in her prime, not yet 32 years of age, and her voice seems ideally creamy, flexible and expressive for this repertoire.
By her side she has the legendary magician Leopold Stokowski, 50 years her senior but as vital as ever. He retained his vitality to the very end of his life, making his last recording just a few months before his death at 95. The orchestra is the New York based American Symphony Orchestra, founded by Stokowski two years before this recording was made. The recorded sound is spectacular, even today, and allows us to wallow in the colourful orchestration of Canteloube. Stokowski draws luminous playing from the band, the opening number especially. Moffo’s voice sails above and in front of the orchestral sonorities with a roundness and beauty that surpasses practically every other soprano who has recorded these songs, possibly Kiri Te Kanawa excepted.
In L’aîo dé rotso (tr. 3) she characterizes well and adopts a more girlish tone and Baîléro suits her voice to perfection, sung with admirable legato. Each of these songs is a gem and the choice and ordering creates optimal contrast and variation. It’s a pity RCA didn’t record the complete songs when they had this marvellous team at hand.
The fillers aren’t bad either, and the record-buying public back in the 1960s had no reason to complain about the parsimonious playing time. Around 40 minutes was quite normal for an LP in those days and today it isn’t uncommon that we can get two complete LPs squeezed together on one CD. Of course we still wish that there had been more material available to make the disc even more tempting.
In the wordless Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras she soars beautifully over the plucked strings, where there also is a very expressive, but un-credited, cello solo. She then shows her dramatic potential in the B-section before she returns to the A-section with even more hushed tone. In my relative youth I had recordings of this work with Villa-Lobos’ favourite sopranos: Bidu Sayão, Brazilian like the composer, and Victoria de los Angeles. I wouldn’t say that Anna Moffo supersedes them but she is not far behind interpretatively, her voice is at least as beautiful as that of de los Angeles and she has the superior recording.
The concluding Vocalise was written for Antonina Nezhdanova, who also premiered the orchestral version with Rachmaninov himself conducting. I can imagine that Stokowski also felt deeply for this music since he collaborated a great deal with the composer, conducting the premieres of the Symphony No 3, fourth piano concerto and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the composer playing the solo part. They also recorded together: Piano concerto No 2 twice and the Rhapsody shortly after the premiere. During his Indian Summer in the 1970s he recorded the orchestral version of Vocalise in harness with the Third Symphony. Be that as it may, the present recording of the Vocalise is legendary, at least to me, since Swedish Radio for many years used it as the signature tune for a popular request programme. Rehearing it now after many years evokes pleasant memories.
There is no shortage of recordings of any of this music and many readers may be well stocked already, but this programme – and the execution of it – is wholly delectable and the price is certainly affordable.
As always it’s regrettable that Newton couldn’t supply the sung texts with translations. Maybe someone test listened to the Vocalise only and thought that the rest was wordless as well. Don’t let this lapse deter you from enjoying one of the most beautiful soprano voices on record.
Enjoy one of the most beautiful soprano voices on record.