V0404. COVENT GARDEN ON RECORD, Vol. I, 1870-1904. (England) 3-Pearl 9923, w.Elaborate Booklet. Transfers by Keith Hardwick. [Buyer caveat: These disks manifest the ubiquitous 'bronzing' found on many Pearl issues, but these play beautifully] Long out-of-print; Final copy! - 727031992325
“The four-volume set (CDS 9923/6; 12 CD's in all) is one for the holiday gift list - but give it to an opera lover who is not yet fascinated by historical recordings; anyone who is will likely have bought it as soon as it appeared. And having bought it, will have dived in and emerged hours later, senses sharpened, full of gushy enthusiasm and pointed criticisms at the same time.
The bulk of the compilation is 227 sides studio-made for commercial issue between 1902 and 1941. (A few of them are included only in part.) One virtue of the Pearl set is that the speeds have obviously been chosen with care, though I disagree with a few conclusions. There is also a cylinder recording along with 11 selections recorded in live performance - some 14 hours of singing by just over 80 singers. The selection is by Keith Hardwick, a longtime producer of reissues for EMI/ Angel.
Given the greats as a foundation, interest centers on Mr. Hardwick's selections among the lesser known. Anthologies that proceed in chronological order are front-loaded with problems; Volume 1 (representing 20 seasons between 1870 and 1904) has some sonically primitive cuts and some elderly singers whose disks are more valuable for information than for musical satisfaction. And through all four volumes Mr. Hardwick gives certain singers more than their due.
Margarete Siems, the first Marschallin, is usually remembered for her dazzling coloratura records; here we have part of the first-act ROSENKAVALIER soliloquy - clear, fresh and expressive. She must have been a wonderful singer of recitative. So must Dennis Noble, who is imaginative, very ‘English’ in a positive way, in the quasi-spoken ending of the PAGLIACCI Prologue. Fanny Heldy and Fernand Ansseau in MANON show that passion and scrupulous vocalism are no enemies; so, even more stunningly than I had recalled, does Helge Roswaenge in the supposedly unsingable aria of Florestan in FIDELIO.
The list could be doubled, but the point is made: if the above sounds intriguing, buy with confidence. Besides Mr. Steane's enjoyable but too brief notes, the booklets offer recording data and telegraphically condensed biographical information.”
- Will Crutchfield, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 13 Dec., 1992