Richard Crooks - Songs and Ballads
The Delos issue is of the utmost importance. The Crooks family donated their collection of Richard Crooks to the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound. To return the compliment, its Honorary Curator, William R. Moran, well known to collectors, has prepared this invaluable pair of CDs, consisting almost entirely of unpublished recordings, the majority of them Victors, some duplicating published performances but others new to Crooks’s discography, most notably songs by Arne, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Robert Franz and Quilter (a ravishing Now sleeps the crimson petal). Then there are privately made items of unusual interest, notably two pieces sung at a wedding ceremony in 1967, when the tenor was 67, showing little or no sign of decline in his powers (he had retired for health reasons as early as 1946).
The other private offerings, of Strauss Lieder (Die Nacht and Morgen, made at home) have Crooks announcing the songs, then saying disarmingly: “After which I shall probably fall on my voice in a dead faint”. He needn’t have worried: both, sung – unusually by him (because Victor liked him to sing in English) – in the original language, are done with grace, feeling and touches of the most delicate piano. The date given is c1937, but I would suggest a later date as the voice sounds darker than it was in the 1930s. From possibly the same session comes Federico’s Lament (
Also included is the complete Die schone Mullerin I reviewed in May last year when it appeared on Claremont. I won’t repeat what I said then except to praise a flawed but genuinely artless interpretation, the first ever on record by a tenor (not the premiere recording tout court as I wrongly stated). The transfers here are marginally superior but those who have the alternative issue may be placed in a quandary. Crooks enthusiasts will want both, not least because Delos have refurbished his rare Electrola operatic titles (sung in German) including Lohengrin’s Narration sung with real vision and, never heard before, an unpublished Carmen Flower Song, fluid and fluent, ending with a quiet high B flat – Crooks at his persuasive best and a souvenir of one of his Metropolitan roles. Besides, Electrola undoubtedly came closer than Victor to catching the true sound of Crooks’s tone (and that in the late 1920s). The final rarities, and enormous fun, are duets – De Camptown Races and Beautiful Dreamer – with Bing Crosby, taken off the air in 1943, with some spoken banter between the singers beforehand. These bring a fascinating issue to a joyous end.
After the careful, true restorations by Moran, the added resonance on the Nimbus CD is unacceptable, sounding more artificial than ever, and quite unnecessary in the case of electric recordings. Besides, the material here is mostly second-rate, though admittedly immensely popular when Crooks sang Foster et al on his recital tours. If you want the tenor at his considerable best, which is to say almost in the McCormack class as a charmer, go for the Delos disc.'