V2590. VOCAL RECORD COLLECTORS' SOCIETY - 2017 Issue, incl. Leonid Sobinov, Nini Frascani, Niels Hansen, Charles Soix, Agnes Hermann, Léon Beyle, Karl Renner, Else Knepel, Arthur Descamps, Emmy Bettendorf, Fraser Gange, Mafalda Salvatini, Browning Mummery, Inès Jouglet, Georges Jouatte, Frieda van Hessen Georges Noré, Marilyn Cotlow & Lucine Amara (the latter from NBC Telephone Hour broadcast, 1956. VRCS-2017, recorded 1901-56. Transfers by Seth B. Winner.
“And so we come to this latest release from the Vocal Record Collectors' Society. It contains precisely the kind of rarified content in one respect or another that collectors of historical singers of opera and song have spent hours delighting - and not just ourselves, but others who have fallen into our clutches….
This disc presents the same kind of experience one would expect upon visiting a knowledgeable collector who, by chance, is also an expert digital editor. Add in biographies of the singers and record information (dates, side length, matrix and catalog numbers, etc), and you have all the makings of a fine collectors' get together….
Everyone inevitably has their favorites in such a collection, of course. Among those selections included on this release, I find myself taken with Emmy Bettendorf's 1929 Parlophone of Brahms' ‘Von ewiger Liebe’. Bettendorf's recordings are typically regarded as ‘all voice and no interpretation’, but if she doesn't do much with the forest description, Hoffmann von Fallersleben's dialog between the young lovers draws from her a rare emotional response. ‘Schnell wie wir früher wereiniget sind’ she sings, emphasizing well the boy's despairing anger, while the entire last line of the girl's response, ‘Unsere Liebe muss ewig bestehn!’ is as rapturous as one could wish.
Another highlight is Lucine Amara (the best Musetta on record, in one of my two favorite Bohèmes) with a pair of selections transcribed from a 1956 Bell Telephone Hour off NBC: a perfectly even version of Grieg's ‘Ein Traum’, and a shaded, beautifully enunciated ‘The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond’. Then there's Charles Soix, who turns in a spellbinding version of Mussorgsky's ‘The Field Marshall’ (in French) from his Songs and Dances of Death. A high bass, like so many French ones, he can't provide the kind of depth Boris Christoff had, much less Lev Sibirakov, but his high notes ring freely, thrillingly. And Soix interprets it brilliantly, especially after Field Marshall Death takes over the song to sneer and arrogantly boast of his endless armies that cover the earth.
Of the 21 selections, eight are acoustic - which I mention because I don't want to give the impression, on the basis of the singers I singled out above for praise, that the older artists fare worse. A 1901 Berliner gives us Leonid Sobinov placed much more forward to the horn than was often the case with his later acoustics, offering a better sense of what his contemporaries described as his exceptionally warm, lyrical tone; while mezzo Nini Frascani is exciting and rich-toned (if unidiomatic) in a 1910 Columbia of ‘Mon coeur, s'ouvre à ta voix’.
Some of the selections I take less pleasure in, but all have their redeeming features. The French lyric tenor Georges Noré, for example, has a habit of cutting his phrases short, though in fairness, he wasn't alone in trimming what were considered ‘stylistic excesses’ of bygone years in mid-20th century operatic performance. Nor is his ‘Vainement, ma bien aimée’ different in that respect, but the first two syllables in ‘La je resterai toujours!’ display a fine diminuendo and perfectly judged downward slur. (David Devriès remains my favorite in this aria, though he is admittedly primus inter pares.)
Seth Winner does a superior job with the digital transfers. If you aren't aware of the VRCS's annual series but enjoy sampling the rarer side of vintage operatic and song transfers from extensive collections, you should seriously consider this, their 2017 release (the latest from them, by the way), for purchase from Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com).”
- Barry Brenesal, FANFARE