Recording of the Week Decca Most Wanted Recitals
We received a very exciting delivery from Mexico towards the end of last week: fifty great Decca vocal recitals (dating mainly from the 1950s to the early 80s) have been treated to 24-bit/192KHz transfers by Victor Suzan of Universal Music Mexico, who has mined the Philips and Decca archives for treasure and come up with a selection of gems which are sure to appeal to historical opera aficionados and casual listeners alike.
Around three-quarters of this material has never been previously released on CD, or in some instances on any format, and the artists include household names as well as some superb singers of the past who are comparatively elusive on disc these days.
I’ve been dipping into our box of sample-copies most days over the past few weeks, and it’s been an absolute treat to discover artists and repertoire (or unusual combinations of the two!) that I’d never explored in any real detail before.
My first port of call, and still possibly my favourite of the lot, was a rafter-rattling operatic recital by the German dramatic soprano Inge Borkh, captured at her formidable peak in the late 1950s. The strikingly gothic cover-image was what caught my initial attention: where possible, the discs reproduce the sleeve-art of the original LPs, giving a real vintage feel to the series. Most of her current discography consists of complete recordings of her signature-roles (Turandot, Elektra, and Salome), so it’s fabulous to hear her in this wide-ranging collection: she slims her steely sound to a silvery thread for the lyrical arias, but the stand-outs are the powerhouse Verdi selections. There’s surely no more redoubtable Lady Macbeth on record - our social networking feeds indicate that many of you are eagerly anticipating this one, and I can quite understand why!
It’s also a joy to hear José Carreras in his golden-voiced prime, and in the repertoire that best suited his voice, in two recordings from 1980: a glorious disc of early Verdi and dramatic Donizetti arias shows why he deserves to be remembered as so much more than ‘The Other One’ of the Three Tenors, whilst a swashbuckling collection of Neapolitan and Spanish popular songs had us all grinning at its sunny delight on a particular grey February afternoon in the office!
A fair proportion of the recitals are devoted to lighter fare such as musicals and torch-songs, immensely enjoyable and full of surprises: these singers ‘crossed over’ with such panache and comfort in the various idioms that it hardly seems jolting when the charismatic Canadian bass-baritone George London follows ‘Ol’ Man River’ with Wotan’s Farewell! Because the discs are taken from LPs, they generally take the form of a main recital of 40 minutes or thereabouts supplemented by substantial bonus-tracks hand-picked by Mr Suzan – these often reveal a very different side of the singer, and even the most deliciously incongruous of them are every bit as valuable as the main course!
Regular readers will probably be well aware of my enthusiasm for many of the current generation of operatic voices, and I’m usually the first person to take issue with those who lament that “you don’t get singers like this these days”, but exploring this collection made me think that in a sense you really don’t. This is the most wonderful legacy of a golden age in recorded singing - Mr Suzan has accomplished a real labour of love here, and I for one am supremely grateful!
Click here to view full details of the records in this series.