Michael K. Halloran | 12/11/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"EMI have raided their considerable vaults and come up with a collection that has been sorely needed. Many of the singers on this disc are unrepresented in the current CD catalogue, so it is a real pleasure to have them here at last.The sopranos chosen certainly fit the description "In the Grand Tradition," although I'd quibble with a couple of choices (it's hard to think of Alda Noni as "grand"). Each is represented by one well-chosen aria, beginning with a 1926 recording by Puccini's first Liu, Maria Zamboni, singing "Signore, ascolta." It is too choked with sobs and overwrought, but what a piece of history! Other highlights are a moving "L'altra notte" by Pia Tassinari (who indulges in one disruptive sob at the end -- you can't accuse the Italians of a lack of passion) and a lovely "Donde lieta" by Sara Scuderi. We also get an authoritative "When I am laid in earth" by Kirsten Flagstad and a lush Marietta's Lied sung by Joan Hammond. Best of all, perhaps, is Eleanor Steber's rapturous rendition of "Depuis le jour," one of the best recordings of that aria ever.Every track, however, is highly enjoyable and unique. These are singers that left their indivual stamp on the music, from the lyric Toti dal Monte and Margherita Carosio to the dramatic Gina Cigna and Maria Caniglia to the more famous Sena Jurinac, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Leonie Rysanek. Today's focus on superb musicianship above all else has raised technical accomplishment but has eliminated the individuality and overwhelming personality evident in these early recordings. For a glimpse into an older (but hopefully not forgotten) tradition, this disc is invaluable."