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José Carreras - Live - The Comeback Concerts
see end of review for track listing
José Carreras (tenor)
Vincenzo Scalera, Ronald Schneider*(piano)
rec. Barcelona. July, November 1988; Peralda, August 1988; Vienna, September 1988. DDD
ACANTA 233552 [75:40]

Experience Classicsonline


The date and circumstances of this recital may provoke some trepidation on the part of prospective buyers but the result is actually a gratifying experience. These 'comeback concerts' are from the period immediately after Jose Carreras recovered from leukaemia and the terrible difficulties of treating that cancer. The effects of his treatment actually bore remarkably little effect on his singing on the evidence of these recordings: the sound is warm, his phrasing is distinguished by its stylishness. We can enjoy his clear diction and the sound itself is an unusually emotive one. His singing is an improvement on that in evidence at different times during 1985-1987. The voice is a little better integrated: much of Nessun Dorma is very accomplished. The song and Romantic (Bellini, Rossini) repertoire here is better suited to his skills; just compare his strained records of Manon Lescaut for Decca or La Forza del Destino for DG. He is not fighting to be heard over a huge orchestra as he must for The Three Tenors concerts. The most striking quality here is the enthusiasm of his singing.
There is some shading in his singing although this is a little lacking in the Barcelona Arc de Triomfe celebration which was his return to public performance. Given the huge crowds this is still a surprisingly tasteful and stylish performance and the recorded sound is satisfying: clear and neither bass shy nor too fierce a treble. Carreras's performance in Nessun Dorma is, with the exception of the last phrases which strain him, an improvement on his live version in the complete recording of Turandot with Lorin Maazel from 1983. His use of the words, as if telling a story, is vivid and his phrasing makes use of many dynamic shades. His smooth, joined-up legato phrasing in 'L' emigrant' is notably solid and although his delivery in this recital can sound a little curt the results are often pleasing.
His audience was in a jubilant mood at the return of their hero and Carreras himself appears to be in high spirits: the nature of the concerts was far more favourable for this singer than his Three Tenors' performances only two years later. There he sounded as if he was trying to make the voice sound more powerful and loud than it was by nature: this had the negative effect of robbing his singing of the charm which is one of his main assets. Even in the Barcelona Arc de Triomfe concert he is not forcing the tone too much for volume.
For years critics had raised concerns about the repertoire that Carreras was singing and even had qualms about the manner in which he sang them. Technical issues which had been presenting themselves from about the late seventies were, however, actually little altered from the period before the leukaemia. He is inclined to be a little too emphatic and loud at times, the high notes can be a struggle, the timbre can be a little dry and the soft singing can sound a bit detached and threadbare. For all that, he delivers a rich sound used with a sort of genius at times. All caution is thrown to the wind in 'Jo et presentia com la mar' which gives a good indication of his strengths.
The extra energy of the happy occasion means that Carreras’s 'No puede ser', although emphatic and quite hard-driven at the end, does not sound quite as strained as he might in the future. The middle section of the song is surprisingly intimate given the scale of the event. His singing of Spanish is, as ever, a particular joy. He savours the distinct sounds of that language and generates a good deal of excitement. He is perhaps not as 'neat' as notable singers such as Giacomo (Jaume) Aragall or Alfredo Kraus but his vibrant voice carries its own charisma. 'Canticel' by the Catalan composer Eduard Toldrà receives a suitably emotive performance before a home crowd.
The next recital from Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona is a more traditional affair with Carreras in exceptionally fine form for this period in his career. He makes a remarkably vivid Romeo in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. This reminds you that his voice is a dark but lyric instrument rather than the sort of spinto, 'pushed', sound really needed for Andrea Chenier, Alvaro (Forza del Destino) or Calaf (Turandot). His plaintive sound is effective here and he obvious considers this Romeo a cousin of the Romantic Edgardo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Capuleti with a tenor Romeo is quite scarce on records: Giacomo Aragall made a wonderful recording with the young Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti in the 1960s. However, it is unlikely we shall see many other modern tenor versions of this aria or the role complete since it is not historically authentic: it was originally written for a mezzo-soprano. Personally I enjoyed the tenor version very much with the vigour of the adolescent protagonist well caught in this extract.
There are live recordings of Carreras singing this aria in 1972 and the contrasts are interesting: here the performance is slower, more thoughtful, rather more effortful, but more individual and focused that the earlier version which is, all the same, vocally resplendent and beguiling. In 1972 he was singing with a confident bravura not quite matched, I think, in these 1988 concerts. However, the 1988 Liceu recital is among the best of Carreras’s late recordings - they balance passion and vocal consistency to an extent unfortunately not very common in Carreras' records thereafter: The Three Tenors included. Perhaps the high notes of I Puritani and La Sonnambula would have never really been within his compass. One might dream, all the same, of what a singer with Carreras's particular skills might have made of that music.
This recording of the scene from I Capuleti e I Montecchi and Carreras' recording of L'Elisir d'amore with Scimone on Philips back in 1985 makes one regret that he did not record more of this repertoire: Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and perhaps rarities like Cherubini. Having said that, Carreras's voice sounds weighty so his contemporaneous excursions as Eleazar (La Juive), Samson (Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila) and Donizetti's Poliuto are not so surprising. The colour of his voice is so much darker than when he made his debut in the early 1970s. Unfortunately these roles demanded more secure high notes than Carreras could consistently muster.
The trio of Vaga lunaga, che inargenti, Gia il sole dal gange and Per la gloria d'adorarvi as well as Malia in the Arc de Triomfe concert bring him into direct comparison with Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007). Pavarotti also recorded a DVD of these songs in Barcelona in 1988. He then went on to record them again around ten years later for Decca. Pavarotti is the much more consistent vocalist with an even steadier high register. His legato singing is very proficient if a little less imaginative than that of Carreras. Pavarotti's clean and bright sound is unique but Carreras, despite some issues, is able to colour his phrases with a little more delicacy. Pavarotti was not helped in his later recording of Gia il sole dal gange by a rather fast tempo and this lends his performance a slightly hectoring quality missing from the Carreras which is a little slower. That said, the older singer provides a tighter flourish at the end. Pavarotti's Per la gloria d'adorarvi by contrast benefits from a slightly more sprightly tempo. Carreras's version loses momentum a little much for my taste. Also the soft singing of Carreras requires some gear changes.
The concert at Peralda is less consistently successful. For instance in L’heure exquise the song does not gel, instead we have a lot of effects which don’t quite mesh including soft singing that sounds rather white and threadbare. Although Carreras was a fine Werther and Don José (Carmen) he does not make the French language come alive as he can with Italian or especially Catalan. For this repertoire one would ideally want a singer with a better joined-up voice with access to easy high notes. Le manoir de Rosamonde is much more extrovert than it is with Gérard Souzay or Paul Groves. Carerras captures some of the anger and sadness of the song although recorded in close-up but his voice sounds overly strident. Damunt de tu, només les flors suffers from the lack of an orchestra. Carreras is in better form but this cannot compare with Giacomo Aragall’s version with Orquesta Simfónica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya conducted by Salvador Brotons.
There is some clapping and audience noise at times but generally we can hear the songs without interruption. The sound is very vivid in Barcelona and Vienna and is quite good at capturing the emotion of the different evenings. I find the Peralda concert less appealing: the sound has too much echo for my taste. Cutting out a great deal of applause means that the records can be enjoyed without it all getting too grating on repeated listening. The sound of the Vienna recording of Granada is lovely: it is probably the best version by Carreras with this one happily bringing together the tenor in fine form, good recorded sound and a terrific sense of atmosphere. The arrangement is far from the worst around.  
The booklet is straightforward and most of the details are correct but there are unfortunately no texts.
Fans of Carreras will not need any persuasion that this CD is for them. Other listeners might enjoy this disc as it shows the singer in decent form in a generally enjoyable programme. It’s much better than one might expect under the circumstances and on the evidence of his subsequent records. I would not necessarily suggest this as an introduction to José Carreras. Come to this after you have heard some of his excellent 1970s recordings especially Tosca with Montserrat Caballé and Colin Davis (Philips), his Rossini Otello (Philips), his part in Verdi’s Macbeth with Riccardo Muti (EMI) or his Verdi Simon Boccanegra with Claudio Abbado (DG).
David Bennett

Track listing
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Ich liebe dich [3:26]
Francesco P. TOSTI (1846-1916)
Malia [3:29]
Eduardo TOLDRÁ (1895-1962)
Canticel [2:07]
Traditional El cant dels ocells [2:40]
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Jo et pressentia com la mar from “El combat del somni” [1:58]; Damunt de tu, només les flors [4:38]
Pablo SOROZABAL (1897-1988)
No puede ser from “La taberna del Puerto” [3:15]
Amadeo VIVES (1871-1932)
[erroneously given as ‘Jaume Vives’ in CD cover and booklet] L’emigrant [3:33]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Nessun dorma from “Turandot” [3:20]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Ecco la tomba…Deh’tu bell’anima* from “I Capuleti e I Montecchi” [6:13]; Vaga luna, che inargenti* [3:11]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Già il sole dal gange* [2:24]
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747)
Per la gloria d’adorarvi* [3:59]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Oh come il fosco…Quell’alme pupille* from “Lapietra del paragone” [7:25]
Reynaldo HAHN (1875-1947)
L’heure exquise [3:07]
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
Le memoir de Rosamonde [2:59]
Joaqúin TURINA (1882-1949)
Nunca olvida [2:27]
Fernando OBRADORS (1897-1945)
Del Cabello más sutil [2:05]
Agustín LARA (1897-1970)
Granada [4:24]

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