The Compact Collection

 This week's best CD releases
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The Independent Culture

While it's probably true to say that CD conglomerates tend to economise on the more recherché areas of recorded back catalogue, there are some happy exceptions. One of the most recent, and most desirable, is Universal's computer-friendly series "The Singers", a well-planned initiative reissued under the imprint of Decca that calls on the vast pooled recorded archive of Decca, Philips, Deutsche Grammophon and Westminster. Each CD allows you to view PC and Mac-compatible on-screen information, including a biography (which is also printed in the booklet), sung texts, a selected discography, a photo gallery and access to the relevant singer's website.

The first batch is stronger on women than on men, and on sopranos in particular. The brilliant Wagnerian heldensoprano Frida Leider rises fearlessly above the sonic limitations of the recording horn and 78 surface noise, heroic in Beethoven's Fidelio and selections from Wagner and in partnership with the great Danish heldentenor Lauritz Melchior, her sole male equal from the period. The bright, beautifully modulated soprano of Erna Berger retained its girlish character well into middle age though Decca's choices concentrate on some rare pre-war recordings that Berger made when she was still in her thirties. Selections include Italian opera sung in German, a number of songs and a memorable recording of the final trio from Rosenkavalier.

Berger's composure is matched by the Belgian-born soprano Suzanne Danco, best known for her Mélisande but whose ravishingly beautiful April 1950 Geneva recording of "When I am laid in earth" from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is one of the highlights of the series. Danco's silvery timbre is perfectly suited to Mozart, Strauss lieder and the heart-rending aria "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise.

Decca's stereo representatives include, in addition to the expected Sutherland and Pavarotti recitals, a useful showcase for the much-loved soprano Renata Tebaldi, opening with early recordings of Gounod and Puccini, taking in mature duets with Franco Corelli and closing with religious songs and "If I loved you" from Carousel. Tebaldi's was a soprano with real character, less striking but more variously employed than Gundula Janowitz whose extraordinary serenity in, for example, Schubert's Du bist die Ruh' is unforgettable. She is a musician to her fingertips, especially in key arias from Weber's Der Freischütz and Oberon. By contrast, the vibrant Spanish mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza employs a keen musical instinct in pursuit of elegance, earthiness and great warmth of feeling. A favoured Carmen, Berganza on Decca sings Rossini, Mozart and Granados, seductively, occasionally provocatively, but always with an inimitable sense of style.


The Singers on Decca: Frida Leider 467 911-2; Erna Berger 467 917-2; Suzanne Danco 467 909-2; Renata Tebaldi 467 915-2; Gundula Janowitz 467 910-2; Teresa Berganza 467 905-2. Also available, Maggie Teyte 467 916-2