Bel Canto: The Tenors of the 78 Era Parts 1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Medici Arts
PERFORMER: Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa, Richard Tauber, Leo Slezak & Joseph Schmidt; Lauritz Melchior, Helge Rosvaenge, Jussi Björling, John McCormack, Georges Thill & Ivan Kozlovsky
CATALOGUE NO: 2050208

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On these two DVDs we get a celebration of the art of the tenor in, roughly speaking, the first half of the last century, which Caruso kicked off in grand style in a hotel bedroom in Milan in 1902, cutting a set of discs which convinced people that listening to recorded sound could be a source of pleasure.

From then on there was no stopping many singers and other musicians, though some remained suspicious of recording for many years, or, like the great Jean de Reske, destroyed the recordings that were made of them.

Each of these half-hour programmes, as they originally were, gives a fair representation of the tenor concerned, and assorted experts talking about him, including Jurgen Kesting, very much the German professor, the dismissive English pundit Michael Scott, and the truly extraordinary tenor Stefan Zucker, who manages some illuminating formulations.

We see several of the singers in movies that should have been beneath them, but that proved financially irresistible. We get odd glimpses of truly great operatic performances, though there are far too few of these, and hear each singer in in sound which is so strikingly good than anyone who thinks recording only became tolerable in the late 20th century is in for a series of big and pleasant surprises. 

What perhaps we get more strongly than anything else is the sense of a period of singing when individuality was far more marked than it is today – none of these singers could be mistaken for anyone else for more than a few seconds. Even for those who are not tenor specialists, these priceless documents offer much to ponder on. Michael Tanner

Part 1: Medici Arts 2050208

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Part 2: Medici Arts 2050218