Kurt Baum = 18 Opera Arias by BELLINI, ROSSINI, HALEVY,VERDI, PUCCINI, GOUNOD, BIZET, LEONCAVALLO, PONCHIELLI, GIORDANO, MEYERBEER, and R. STRAUSS – Kurt Baum, tenor/Austrian Symphony Orchestra/Wilhelm Loibner – Preiser

by | Feb 4, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Kurt Baum = 18 Opera Arias by BELLINI, ROSSINI, HALEVY,VERDI, PUCCINI, GOUNOD, BIZET, LEONCAVALLO, PONCHIELLI, GIORDANO, MEYERBEER, and R. STRAUSS – Kurt Baum, tenor/Austrian Symphony Orchestra/Wilhelm Loibner – Preiser 89741, 79:56 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
A strange contradiction in terms, the voice of Prague-born and Cologne-trained tenor Kurt Baum (1908-1989), a mixture of soaring tessitura–embracing both a high C and a D-flat for his venture into Richard Strauss–and a grueling, even ugly crack in the pitch definition that occasionally becomes a raucous screech. Baum kept his flexible voice–that could at bottom approach the baritone range even as his Manrico could soar above others without ever a need to transpose–in top condition, and his repute at the MET became that of “Mr. Reliable.” Yet there could be a vulgar, rough, gauche quality to the voice that intrudes itself in the midst of some otherwise faultless singing.
The program offered by Preiser derives from two monaural discs–one Allegro Royale and the other Remington–with no recording dates or timings. The repertory clearly embraces the mainstream tenor roles–Radames, Manrico, Rodolfo, Calaf, and Cavaradossi, Don Jose, Canio, and Faust–that rival Jussi Bjoerling and Franco Corelli in breadth and stature. From the outset, the “Meco all’altar di Venere” from Norma, we detect a fluid voice marred by interior strain or fraying in the chest tone. Yet the legato phrasing retains a rising lilt and sensitivity to the text. A metallic patina intrudes into “O muto asil del pianto. . .Corriam” from Rossini’s William Tell, the vocal strain at the very bottom of upward scales until Baum controls the pitches. Yet the heroic call to arms communicates both security and lyrical beauty.
Rossini’s “Cujus animam” from his Stabat Mater reveals Baum as a spinto performer of vocal stamina and color flexibility. His “Recitar. . .Vesti la giubba” hints at del Monaco as much as at Gigli, and its dramatic sensitivity cannot be denied. The weeping strength of Canio’s repressed sense of betrayal erupts with agonized beauty. “Di quella pira” from Il Trovatore enjoys a flexible pulsation definitely reminiscent of Bjoerling and virtually as strong in the long notes. The high C does not shatter and testifies to a potent instrument in the Caruso mold. A powerful rival to the Bjoerling hegemony comes in “Cielo e mar” from Ponchielli’s La Giaconda, both ardent and clearly intoned, the diction natural, the legato taut, a nicely graduated diminuendo. The sweet quality of “Celeste Aida” might nod to Richard Tucker, although the vocal tone is darker and the approach more Viennese.
Baum delivers arias from four French operas, of which Don Jose’s “Flower Song” casts a sadly poignant hue that might hearken to Leopold Simoneau, given the slight edginess in the tone. “Rachel, quand du Seigneur” from Halevy’s La Juive exploits Baum’s studied parlando style, the tessitura punishing in the mid-voice and high notes that occasionally become unnecessarily weepy but that demonstrate extraordinary breath control. Faust’s hymn to Marguerite’s purity of spirit itself breathes chaste repose. Baum handles the exhausting “Plus blanche que la blanche hermine” from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots admirably, but the aria itself rings falsely ceremonial and emotionally tedious.
Of the remaining arias, “The day’s azure space” from Andrea Chenier communicates fiery, verismo passion and inner longing, quite captivating. Each of the four Puccini arias recommends itself, perhaps none more innately lilted than “Donna non vidi mai” from Manon Lescaut, which seems to play to Baum’s natural alternations of strength and lyric outpouring.  Rodolfo’s “Che gelida manina” I find a bit gritty in texture, given that Allegro Royale hardly put out a record surface more reputable companies would envy. Still, the ardor and the Puccini style endure. “Recondite armonia” well balances supple security and burgeoning passion, with Baum’s swooping the phrases, his crescendo a fortress of sound. We must, of course, compare “Nessun dorma” to that of Jussi Bjoerling, each a model of plaintive diction and rounded phrases. The Baum patina proves a mite harder but equally plastic, the long line seamless. The tremolando strings usher a potent declamation of fated passion and blazing top. Finally, the show-stopper “Di rigori armato il seno” from Der Rosenkavalier, which tiptoes on a tightrope of soaring sound that avoids falsetto even as it breaks a few champagne glasses.
–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01