This is an interesting venture‚ and readers to whom it is new and who can also lay hands on the November 2000 issue of Gramophone might care to look up the review together with an article (that same month) in ‘Singertalk’‚ discussing the first issue. Briefly‚ a selection of Caruso’s records is fitted up with a symphony orchestra to accompany the great tenor‚ the old preelectrical (and to modern ears prehistoric) accompaniments being eliminated and the whole thing‚ voice and orchestra‚ given the supposed benefits of modern recording techniques. The idea‚ I know‚ must sound horrible to seasoned collectors who may also object that it isn’t new – it was tried‚ with varying results‚ in the 1930s. I enjoyed and praised the first volume (which confined itself almost entirely to operatic arias)‚ and have enjoyed this one still more. But‚ alas‚ as regards the first‚ I appear to have been on my own! Other reviewers decried it‚ some of them quite fiercely‚ and on the whole friends and correspondents agreed with them.
Of course there is nothing like a good copy of the 78 original and good equipment to play it on. Failing that‚ Mr Marston’s excellent transfers‚ whether in the new Naxos series or on Pearl‚ will be the standard source of pleasure and point of reference on CD. But these new ‘realisations’ are a voluntary enrichment of choice‚ not a compulsory substitute or affront. First‚ the technical job (synchronisation‚ balance and so forth) has been notably well done‚ an improvement‚ I would say‚ on the first volume in that the listener is less aware of the old record ‘arriving’. In these songs‚ even more than with the arias‚ the singer’s subtlety (not ‘indulgence’) in shaping phrases and handling rhythms demands highly disciplined attention from the conductor and his players‚ and this it gets. Secondly‚ the arrangements‚ often a sore point in this repertoire‚ are faithful and in good taste (the violin obbligato in Musica proibita being perhaps an exception). Most importantly‚ Caruso’s voice is for the most part faithfully captured (again an exception being that they sometimes fail to get the full‚ outgoing resonance‚ as in the climaxes to L’alba separa). They do get the soul.
The sound should delight many who have previously been deterred by the surfacenoise and preelectrical orchestra. Try A vucchella and then Tarantella sincera: and not too much at one time‚ as in all Caruso collections. And I’d like to see now what they might make of all those duets‚ trios and so forth‚ culminating in the Lucia sextet with a choice of Sembrich‚ GalliCurci or Tetrazzini for soprano.