Charles Craig sings Puccini Arias and Favourite Ballads
‘One of the three leading British tenors’ a critic is quoted as saying of Charles Craig in 1959. The others, presumably, were Peter Pears and Richard Lewis, and certainly Craig was in a different category from either of those: he represented the type of central operatic tenor, at that time a proved, and approved, Pinkerton in the big house, Manrico in the smaller one. 1959 was the year of his LP recital in Italian, and when in 1962 the company turned to him for some songs, the repertoire again ran true to type with a selection of Italian songs generally known as ‘Neapolitan’ and English ones known as ‘ballads’. It is all very straight-down-the-middle, and perhaps that is why in their time the records did well enough in the market but failed to achieve what might be called ‘connoisseur’ status.
Now they can be tried again. The first, and immediate, response is recognition of a voice of international calibre, strong and well controlled, completely firm and even in production. He has a genuine legato (hear his ‘Celeste Aida’) and a sturdy body of tone with a range extending upwards to a top C which in Il trovatore he holds as long and valorously as any of the famous foreigners. Sound schooling tells in ‘Una furtiva lagrima’, where the crescendo and phrasing-over into ‘M’ama’ is just as to the wish, as are the quiet rounding-off of the first verse and gracefully turned cadenza of the second. The influence of Gigli is perceptible here, as it is, but more so, in the solos from Faust and La boheme and the song Amarilli. Still, on the whole he has been sensibly selective in what he has picked up, and it is a rather touching tribute to the great Italian that he should ‘show through’ in ‘Non piangere, Liu!’, which as far as I know he never recorded.
All of this prompts the question of why he (Craig) and his records did not have the international success that might seem merited. The songs may suggest one answer. Often it is in songs, and musically ‘insignificant’ ones, that the great singers most distinctively express their individuality. Craig doesn’t. He sings well, and sometimes, splendidly, as in Tosti’s
Dame Joan was a little past her best when the duets were recorded, though she still gives a real performance, always going for the meaning of what she sings. The 1955 solos benefit from warmer, rounder tones and include a fine ‘Love and music’ (‘Vissi d’arte’). The material on all these discs has been diligently retrieved from the old lists (Craig’s Pinkerton, for instance, being fleshed out by items from the Butterfly highlights recorded with Marie Collier – and can anything more of her be retrieved, I wonder?). I’m afraid the orchestral arrangements of the songs (maker unnamed) are of the kind I anathematize nightly in my prayers. But Paul Baily’s remastering is highly successful, and the three discs come as a well-deserved and timely tribute to our tenor, following his death in 1997.'