In July 1958 Desmond Shawe-Taylor took time off from his normal duties as writer of the ''Quarterly Retrospect'' and reported instead on a journey abroad, one of the pleasures of which had been the opportunity of meeting at her home a singer whose records he had admired for many years. Hina Spani was then teaching at the Buenos Aires Conservatoire, and Shawe-Taylor had plans for including in the HMV/Columbia ''Great Recordings of the Century'' series a record devoted to her art. Partly because of the difficulty of locating some rare song recordings, the scheme had to be abandoned, but now, nearly 30 years later, Keith Hardwick has been able to fulfil the long-held ambition, and this exquisite artist is worthily commemorated.
Spani's name will be well-known to specialists, for the recordings she made between 1927 and 1931 (the early Columbias are hardly ever found) are highly esteemed among collectors. But outside that circle there are probably few in this country who remember her at all; she never sang here and her records had only a short life in the catalogues. Yet it was a distinguished career that brought her repeatedly to La Scala and the Colon, and an honourable one in which for some 30 years, and in, we are told, nearly 100 cities, she appeared in over 70 operatic roles supplemented by a large and enterprising concert repertoire. Records preserve nothing of her Donna Anna, Lady Macbeth or Sieglinde, let alone her Ottavia in L'incoronazione di Poppea, Leonora in Oberto, or the Bach Schubert, Debussy and Prokofiev that figured in her recitals. They do, however, give a representative sample, and in almost everything she does we recognize an imaginative approach and a sensitive touch that had clearly become habitual.
Those who know her only by the Otello Willow Song included in ''The Record Of Singing'', Vol. 3. (EMI EX290169-3,10/85) and previously unpublished should not judge her by that: the fast speed, presumably calculated as necessary for recording the aria complete on a single side, discourages a reflective style and weakens the sense of tragedy. Nor is the ''Selva opaca'' (1931) from Guglielmo Tell particularly interesting except for the fact that it is now issued for the first time. Classic, however, is her Ballo in maschera aria, beautifully shaded, broadly phrased and intensely dramatic: The two solos from Lohengrin are beautifully performed, the Song to the Breezes musing gently, the Dream bringing the strong heroic metal of the voice into play. La Wally in Catalani's opera was one of her favourite roles, and there is infinite sadness in the repeated ''mai piu'' towards the end of this aria. Here is one of the most scrupulous early recordings of ''Vissi d'arte'' and one of the most subtly shaded of Manon's ''In quelle trine morbide''. The songs all show intelligence and taste: a rare delicacy, for example, in Scarlatti's Se Florindo e fedele, a radiance in Dvorak's Gypsy Songs, grace and gaiety in Granados's El majo discreto. If any collector of originals is so fortunate as to have all these he will still find the album worth acquiring, for the surfaces (which in my experience are commonly of the most choked, gunge-laden sort) are here cleaned up like new, the voice emerging with thrilling freshness, clear in its most indrawn pianissimo, vibrant and dramatic when opened out at full power. This is one of the most delectable gems in the Treasury series and in an ideal world would take its place in a permanent Historical Catalogue; as it is, I would strongly advise immediate investment.'