“Gerard Souzay” (“Most-Wanted Recitals” series) = Baroque arias by GLUCK, HANDEL, LULLY, MONTEVERDI, RAMEAU – Decca

by | Sep 10, 2014 | Classical Reissue Reviews

“Gerard Souzay” = GLUCK: Che puro ciel (Orfeo ed Euridice); Che faro’ senza Euridice? (from Orfeo ed Euridice); C’est un torrent impétueux (from La rencontre imprévue ou Les pèlerins de la Mecque); HANDEL: Scacciata dal suo nido (from Rodelina); Stille amare (Tolomeo); Perfido, di a quell’empio (from Radamisto); Alma mia (from Floridante); Furibondo spira il vento (Partenope); LULLY: Il faut passer tôt ou tard (from Alceste); Belle Hermione, hélas! (from Cadmus et Hermione); Je ne puis dans votre Malheur (from Persée); MONTEVERDI: Tu se’ morta mia vita, Lamento d’Orfeo (Orfeo); RAMEAU: Ah! Qu’on Daigne Du Moins…Puisque Pluton Est Inflexible (Hippolyte et Aricie); Nature, amour, qui partagez mon coeur (from Castor et Pollux); Voici les tristes lieux…Monstre affreux (from Dardanus) – Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux/ Serge Baudo/ L´Orch. de la Société des Concerts du Conservatiore de Paris/ Robert Corman/ English Ch. Orch./ Raymond Leppard – Decca 480 8179, 78:44 [Distr. by Universal] ***1/2:

Gerard Souzay, who died in 2004, had a long and outstanding reputation for unequalled diction, ability to sing in many languages, and investing his performances with pure emotion, eschewing any kind of over-analytical approach to art. His was the methodology that emphasized line and phrasing over the particularities of vocal technique. He was a revered teacher, and was found in over 750 recordings.

His opera forays did not begin until later in life, and he stopped them altogether around 1960, though he had favorite roles and actually leapt quite far into the contemporary music of his day. But it was the recital that remained his true love, and this medium of direct and personal communication with an audience, sans the artifice often associated with opera characters and scenarios, allowed his most immediate and profoundly interpretative roles. Many of those recordings, especially the complete songs of Poulenc and Faure, are classics to this day.

This opera recording from the Baroque era does not, in my mind, rank with his greatest. It’s not that the singing is bad—far from it—and it remains a fine document of early 1960s Baroque practice, especially since the majority of the works are under the direction of Raymond Leppard. But Souzay in this music sings as though one size fits all. Since this time we have had a renaissance of Baroque singing which has demonstrated the incredible variety and vocal wizardly that pervades the music. I kept thinking of Bing Crosby each time I heard this disc—everyone loves him, that is true, but his approach to every song was the same in my opinion. It worked, it sold, and he made a fortune from it. Souzay sounds like he is crooning here—everything is suave, erudite, urbane, and beautiful, but also very much the same no matter what piece we are hearing, and by the end I find it a little tiresome. I don’t think he connects with this music the same way he does with his recital literature.

This is part of what Decca calls its “Most Wanted Recitals” series, currently around thirty releases, many of them—maybe even most—truly outstanding and legendary. Souzay fans will be salivating over this one, but I think his greatest efforts lay elsewhere though I can’t fault anyone for thinking differently. The “super digital transfer” (which I guess is what they are calling 24-bit/192 kHz) is excellent in all regards. [Although remember no matter how hi-res a sampling rate they have used for the remastering, the final CD is still the same old 44.1K/16-bit format. And in these days of DSD and Double DSD, 192/24 is considered old hat, though it probably would make little difference considering the analog tape master original sources involved. The big recent improvements in standard CDs is in the mastering and pressing of them…Ed.]

—Steven Ritter

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