Geoffrey Riggs | New York City, New York, USA | 07/18/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although there are only four Mozart cuts here, they rightly introduce this collection and immediately establish Tauber's unparallelled mastery. In this CD, Lebendige Vergangenheit has provided the finest transfers I've yet heard of some of the finest singing on disc. Tauber may reach closer to perfection than any other classical artist of the past century. Operatically, Tauber's career on stage began and ended with Mozart: Tamino in Zauberfloete in 1913 and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni in 1947. So it's only apt that we get to hear both Tamino's "Dies Bildnis" (his second one, 1938) and Ottavio's "Dalla sua pace"/"Il mio tesoro" (his second "Dalla sua pace" and in the original Italian, 1939; and his first "Il mio tesoro", made in the studio, also 1939). All three of these are striking, although the "Dalla sua pace" is truly in a class by itself, a strong candidate for Desert Island Disc, with its flawless legato, broad phrasing, bright tone, superbly integrated gruppetti, spellbinding piano preceding the repeat and its vivid projection of Ottavio as a character haunted by Anna's suffering. An object lesson in the fusion of great acting and great song. Belmonte's "O wie aengstlich" from Mozart's Entfuehrung aus dem Serail is almost as remarkable in its way, with its even more challenging coloratura and more ambitious pianissimi. Compared to the "Dalla sua pace", the Belmonte aria may be in slightly less fresh voice (despite its being a year earlier) and it even cuts a few measures toward the end, but artistically it is even more ambitious. Had we only this Belmonte aria, Tauber's supremacy in Mozart would still be unquestioned. These two cuts represent the peak of his or anyone's Mozart singing. The rest of this collection is still treasurable. From the two '20s cuts from Contes d'Hoffmann to the two Richard Strauss Lieder made less than two years before his untimely death, this CD gives a comprehensive picture of Tauber as the serious classical singer par excellence. Other samplers on other labels show more of his mastery in lighter music -- for which he was justly famed -- but we can be grateful that here we have a conscientious retrospective of Tauber the immacculate musician and vocalist. If I had to demur on any of the choices here, it would only be Don Jose's "La fleur" from Bizet's Carmen, made in early 1946. This does not represent him at his best, and there are superior versions of him in this aria. Fortunately, later that year, he would be in fine voice again, his superb recording of Max's aria from Weber's Freischuetz (included here) confirming his astonishing vocal recovery in the face of the initial onslaught of the lung cancer that was eventually to take his life."