Puccini La Bohème
It is astonishing that this top favourite among Puccini operas should have had to wait so long before a CD version appeared, and even more astonishing that the version now chosen should be the one which 26 years ago was the first to appear here in stereo. No one need feel cheated though. In charge of the recording were too young record producers who have both risen to the top of the tree, Erik Smith and Ray Minshull, and hearing this CD with its extraordinarily precise placing of voices and carefully planned stage movement, not to mention the fullness and span of the orchestral sound, i have been reminded of our wonder, when it first appeared on LP in the early days of stereo. There is minimal tape hiss, not at all intrusive, and my only reservation is that the voices are more backwardly placed than is usual nowadays, hardly a fault.
The cast is satisfyingly consistent with a fine line-up of the richest and most reliable Italian singers of the day controlled with delicacy as well as dramatic sparkle by Serafin at his finest. When the set originally appeared, many of us noted the relative lack of totally individual imagination, such as we had then recently enjoyed in the LP sets featuring Beecham, Los Angeles and Bjorling and that with Callas and di Stefano (both still available on HMV) but in context these are all rich and memorable performances with Tebaldi producing a gorgeous range of tone-colours, Bergonzi at his sweetest (even if he has the odd Gigli-swoop in ''Che gelida manina'') and Bastianini, Siepi and Corena all in glorious voice. Gianna d'Angelo—a touching Gilda in an often underprized San Carlo version of Rigoletto for Philips (now deleted)—is a light-weight Musetta, at times a little shrill on top but positive in characterization.
My only reservation about the arrival of this first, belated CD Boheme is that it might defer indefinitely the issue in the new medium of Karajan's later Decca set, more uneven but more strongly characterful in a rich, high-powered way. I can understand Decca preferring to have this beautifully wrought example of Ray Minshull's work exposed to the extra critical test of CD rather than the extra critical test of CD rather than the Karajan he did later in Berlin under far more taxing conditions, but it would still be good to have it. Equally after EMI's issue of the Callas Tosca on CD, why not the Beecham Boheme?'