If you want to hear just how thoroughly prepared, technically secure, idiomatic and deeply felt French singing could be between the wars, you need only listen to this wonderful performance, now brought to new life on an excellent EMI transfer to CD. The reading shows the benefits of singers sticking to their own language and singing repertory they knew through and through. When we have listened to more recent recordings, there has always been a moment, as JBS puts it in his note, ''when the mind jumps back half a century to recall the pure singing line of Vallin and Thill so finely drawn, even in texture and rich in naturai grace''.
Now one can hear these singers again in such good sound, the merits of their performances can be marvelled at anew. Vallin develops her portrayal unerringly from a comparatively cool and contained start to the emotional outpouring of the Air des lettres (where the single line ''Mon ame est plein de lui!'' exemplifies her perfect placing of words on the tone with meaning but no over-emphasis), the Air des larmes and Prayer, where all the desperate emotions of Charlotte pour out of her in sympathy with Massenet's impassioned writing. The placing of her tone, the way she moves naturally with the music and the consistently warm and steady tone—these are things to treasure. Thill's tone is just as glorious and true as his partner's, his enunciation of the text pleasing and unaffected. Each of Werther's many solos receives a near-ideal reading, with the voice at once plangent and virile. Perhaps what one marvels at more than anything is the way both singers scrupulously follow Massenet's copious markings of feeling and dynamics, and how rewarding are the results. Nowhere is this more significant than in the final scene. In lesser hands it can seem an anti-climax: here it is infinitely moving. Listen just to Thill at ''Je meurs en te disant que je t'adore!''—all Werther's happiness at being close to Charlotte as he lies dying is there expressed.
The singers surrounding this sovereign pair are no less pleasing. Roque provides a mellow baritone and just the right amount of concern as the solid Albert. Narcon starts off the opera splendidly as a jovial Bailli. Feraldy is pert and lively as Sophie, with the light, airy soprano the role calls for but so seldom gets. Elie Cohen's conducting has elegance, balance and passion—but passion that never becomes overheated as it does in some modern interpretations (the Prelude to Act 3 shows what I mean as well as any passage). Tempos are all perfectly judged and Cohen avoids the heavy-handed lingering that doesn't allow Massenet to speak for himself. So, all in all, a classic set that, it can safely be said, will never be surpassed and is unlikely to be equalled. The sound for 1931 is more than adequate. The libretto includes passages for the minor characters that are cut here.'