Stefano: "Unreleased Jewels"
Songs by Mignone, Falvo, Bianca, Gastaldon, Bixio, Brogi, Yradier, and Di Capua, Henri Ottone, piano, Orchestre Azzurra. Plus, Franz Léhar: Paganini (abridged, in French)
Giuseppe di Stefano, tenor, Andrée Walser, soprano, Violetta Fleury, soubrette, Claude Maréda, buffo, Suisse Romande Radio Orch/ Victor Desarzens, cond.
Preiser 93426 (AAD) (F) TT: 73:29
This Preiser CD features the first authorized release of mid-40s recordings made in Lausanne by Italian tenor Giuseppe di Stefano (b. 1921). As I've mentioned before in other reviews, while di Stefano is best remembered for his 1950s EMI recordings with Maria Callas, his most attractive and beguiling singing is to be found at the very start of his career. At that early stage, he had not yet begun to essay the heavier repertoire that would soon take its toll on perhaps the most beautiful lyric tenor voice of the 20th century. Some may be disappointed that the repertoire on this new release is limited to what might be referred to as "lighter fare" -- Italian songs and operetta. But the singing is of such extraordinary quality I urge you to consider this recording even if selections are not your usual cup of tea.
At this point in his career di Stefano possessed just about everything one would hope to find in a singer. The vocal beauty, diction, and legato were all exemplary. These attributes alone would have been sufficient to assure a major career. But in addition, he was able to modulate his voice to encompass an impressively wide range of dynamics and vocal colors. His diminuendi were absolutely breathtaking -- Sir Rudolph Bing said that di Stefano's reduction of the high C in Faust's"Salut, demeure" from a forte to a mere whisper was the single most beautiful moment he experienced in the opera house. Finally, Giuseppe di Stefano was a master of rubato, giving musical phrases a wonderful shape and sense of inevitability.
All of these attributes are abundantly in evidence in the nine Italian songs featured on this disc. By way of example, di Stefano's artistry turns Gastaldon's"Musica proibita" into as compelling an experience as any great operatic aria. But each of the songs has its delights and thrills. Indeed, this is some of the most compelling Italian tenor singing I have ever heard. The sound on these selections ranges from quite acceptable to studio quality.
An abridged version (in French) of Franz Léhar's operetta Paganini occupies the remainder of this disc. Here, di Stefano is not quite in as sterling voice as in the Italian songs, with an occasional rasp intruding in the middle register. Still his vocalism is of a very high quality, and fans of this tenor will certainly want to sample him in this unusual repertoire. Again, the sound is excellent. All in all, a most welcome addition to the catalogue.
K.M. (Nov. 2000)