Alexander Kipnis (1891-1978) - I
Kipnis has been unaccountably neglected on CD, and since EMI have been remiss in ignoring him this Preiser reissue is doubly welcome. It comprises almost all of his best 78s, most of which were made by HMV or their German counterpart. The singer was certainly in superb voice in 1930-31, when all these discs were recorded in a superb demonstration of bass singing at its best. Though Ukrainian by birth, Kipnis spent all the early part of his career in the German theatre, so his way with the language is idiomatic, even if it is tinged with a Russian accent. For a bass the voice had an amazing range of colour and extraordinary flexibility. Its owner was a master at portraying both evil and comic roles. To judge that you have only to hear Caspar's demonic solo from Der Freischutz and then ''Funftausend Taler'' (marvellous fleetness in the runs) and ''Als Bublein klein'', in each of which his sense of fun is almost palpable, aided by his clear, cutting diction. But that was far from the end of his gifts.
He was just as able to suggest tragedy and/or nobility. That's clear in the two Verdi items here. King Philip's monologue has some elements of exaggeration in it (one of Kipnis's occasional failings) and is sung in German, but it still catches the man's misery though concentrating more perhaps on Philip's bitter feelings than his despondency. His version of ''Il lacerato spirito'', happily sung in Italian, is unsurpassed to this day: the poise and sadness of the recitative are followed by the generous, finely moulded singing of the cantabile section. The authority and sensibility of Kipnis's account of Pogner's address is great singing by any standard: the upright merchant is displayed to perfection. His version of the finale to Act 2 of Der Rosenkavalier is another subtle piece of characterization, ideally revealing Ochs's extravagant nature. These are collectors' classics as are his versions of Sarastro's and Osmin's arias, where one marvels at the perfect melding of word and tone.
Although Kipnis's versions of Mephisto's pieces are done with rollicking cynicism, one regrets that the earlier, Columbia versions in French weren't chosen. At the very end, we catch a glimpse of what Kipnis was like in his native Russian. The smile in the voice, the caressing of the line, the general lightness of touch not only demonstrate his splendid technique, but also the liveliness and vigour of his interpretative powers. The transfers seem to me as excellent as all others from this source. Anyone who has yet to discover Kipnis's art has a pleasure awaiting them.'