Neapolitan Songs – Giuseppe di Stefano, tenor/ Studio Orch./ G. M. Guarino & Dino Oliveri, conductors – EMI Classics Signature Series stereo/mono SACD 9 55926 2 (two discs), [5/8/12] 110:20 *****:
It was Enrico Caruso who first popularized the songs from his native town of Naples, Italy, with early recordings that set the standard for 50 years. In fact it could be said that his attention to the music created the genre to begin with. Afterward every Italian tenor worth his salt was almost required to take a crack at this repertory. None of them, Italian or not, have been more successful than Guiseppe di Stefano, the world-renowned tenor whose devil-may-care approach to the music and fearless flying high notes thrilled a generation of music lovers until the voice started to deteriorate in 1966, effectively putting an end to a career that almost knew no peers. The songs themselves are from a number of sources, mostly by Sir Paolo Tosti (1845-1916) who ended his career as a knighted composer living in London, but spanning a hundred year period to the most modern of Neapolitan composers, with one lyricist living until 2006.
These two new “Signature Series” discs from EMI’s 96K/24-bit SACD remasterings are welcome indeed, and contain music from three different LPs, two complete albums with the addition of seven mono songs from 1953, the rest of the two discs being in stereo and recorded in 1961. The unknown orchestra plays very well, and Di Stefano contributes his usual elegance, wit, charm, and characteristic suavity in music that might be much more universal than one would think. Indeed, just a few tracks into the first disc I was amazed at how enthralled I was, it having been a number of years since I have heard any Neapolitan songs. Or maybe it is just the hypnotic mesmerizing quality of Di Stefano’s voice—I am not sure. But I am sure that these discs, like hearing the originals in the control booth, will thrill you as much as they do me. Audiophiles are drooling already.
This is a special upscale audiophile vinyl that is worth it!