Magazine article Gramophone

Great Voices

Magazine article Gramophone

Great Voices

Article excerpt

Following imaginative leads from Decca/Universal's overseas branches in Australia (Eloquence) and Mexico (Most Wanted Recitals), the company's Decca Sound historical reissue boxes now reach their fifth issue with a large chronological survey of their post-1945 singer roster, from Suzanne Danco to Joseph Calleja. Most of the 55 CDs take as their basis the recital LPs with which new signings are still being awarded their spurs by the company. To the first 37 discs (up to the 1970s) has been added bonus material from other contemporary releases, providing a contrast in repertoire or excerpts from complete opera recordings. Especially for the earlier releases this adds up to generous playing times around the 80-minute mark.

Mastering of this wide range of material is credited to Paschal Byrne and Craig Thompson, leading lights of The Audio Archiving Company Ltd. Their work draws on a golden age of producers and engineers --starting with the likes of John Culshaw, Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson and coming up to Michael Haas and Philip Siney--and the consistent use of familiar and successful venues in Vienna, London, Geneva and Rome. The remasterings sound well throughout, in addition to contributing--as befits a historical survey --to a prospectus of the changing styles and tastes in recording the accompanied voice from the early 1950s to the 2000s. Sample in this respect the balance accorded Fernando Corena's 1956 recital in Florence (Italian items) and Geneva (French items). As the soloist and the 'star' he's placed right downstage with the orchestra sounding as if far upstage, or even in the next room. Everything appears to be sung as loudly as possible, yet the results (especially in Offenbach's 'Pif Paf Pouf or Donizetti's 'Udite, udite, o rustici') are compulsively funny.

The various Decca technical teams certainly possessed the ability to lure performances from artists in the studio. Passing through the 60-odd years collected here is to marvel at the sheer liveliness and standard of the work preserved. The listener still needs recovery time after the 'event' (CD 15, track 5) of Joan Sutherland's 1959 Lucia Mad Scene, the beginning of the 'La Stupenda' legend. What top notes! (And the ensuing 'Casta diva' and Lakme Bell Song are hardly less hair-raising.)

Other discs marking the event of a career launch or international debut have survived less well. The (very) heavy repertoire--Turandot, Macbeth, Aida, Manon Lescaut's death--that Hungarian star-from-nowhere Sylvia Sass was rushed to London's Kingsway Hall to record in February 1977 (CD35) has huge, over-the-top emotions, generous vibrato and vocalist-dictated tempos. …

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