A Richard Crooks Collection
Robert E. Nylund | Ft. Wayne, Indiana United States | 12/05/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"American tenor Richard Crooks (1900-1972) would have been just another fine opera and recital singer if it had not been for the popularity of a long-running radio program, "The Voice of Firestone," which he hosted for many years. For this writer, the real difference came in the rare opportunity to actually meet the retired singer at his home in Portola Valley, California, on December 31, 1969. A close friend of mine had known Crooks for several years and he finally arranged for a meeting that memorable day.Already, however, I had heard many of Crooks' 78-rpm recordings for RCA Victor. Crooks had retired in 1945, due to serious health problems, but he actually could still sing quite well, as can be determined by hearing some of the rare private recordings of Crooks singing at a wedding in 1968. Those recordings, included in this wonderful compilation, are proof that Crooks still had the same beautiful, lyrical voice which had so distinguished his singing over the years. Sadly, Crooks was already battling the cancer that would ultimately take his life in September 1972.This two-CD compilation, prepared by the Stanford (University) Archives of Recorded Sound, goes back to one of Crooks' earliest recordings, an unreleased Columbia recording of "The Americans Come." It also includes some of his early Victor recordings. Among these is the "Serenade" from Rudolf Friml's "The Student Prince." (Crooks also sang with the Victor Light Opera Company in some of their medley recordings, which were so popular during the 1920's. One of the recordings is a medley of songs from "The Student Prince," in which Crooks alternates with another tenor, Lambert Murphy, on some of the solos.)One of the amazing releases in this collection is Franz Schubert's "Die schone Mullerin," in which Crooks is wonderfully accompanied by Frank LaForge. Remarkably, Victor never issued these recordings. The only problem is that there are occasional flaws in the original masters, but the brilliant singing comes through.Crooks often talked about singing in public when he was only 10 years old. Famed German contralto Ernestine Schumann Heink was present at the performance and, at the very end, she planted a big kiss on the boy, to his embarassment. Crooks also spoke of hearing Enrico Caruso sing at the Metropolitan Opera; he said that Caruso's recordings are like listening to the tenor in the lobby with the doors closed!There are some interesting curiosities in this collection, too, such as some recordings of various operatic arias recorded in Germany and sung in German, regardless of the original language. However, operas were usually sung in German in Germany in the 1920's and 1930's, so Crooks was simply following the custom of the time.There is also the double-sided 12-inch 78-rpm RCA Victor "Red Seal" disk that Crooks always said was his favorite: two famous arias by Richard Wagner, the "Prize Song" from "Meistersinger" and "En fernem land" from "Lohengrin." One marvels at not only the beauty and sweetness of Crooks' voice but his amazing diction. His training and experience in Germany served him well.One of the special treats is hearing two Stephen Foster classics, "De Camptown Races" and "Beautiful Dreamer," sung with Bing Crosby on 1940's radio broadcasts. When this writer met Crooks in 1969, he told how he remained in touch with Bing, who lived a few miles north of him. It's clear that the two, very different singers admired each other and they also had some fun singing such songs.Among Crooks' last commercial recordings was a new version of "The Americans Come," recorded in January 1945. This seemed particularly appropriate as World War II wound down to its terrible end. Sadly, Crooks' serious illness ended his wonderful musical career that year, but the surviving recordings on these two CD's are a lasting testimony to the abilities of this gifted singer who was also a wonderful human being."
Richard Crooks: A Fine Man and a Master Singer
Rob Pollock | 06/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I most heartily agree with what the earlier reviewer has written of Richard Crooks and of this excellent Stanford Archive set.
The 2 CD set is a most welcome release, and I note that, for now at least, one seller has it available at the bargain price of $14.95. Collectors of the recordings of singers from the early years of last century please note, and snap it up while still on offer at such a modest cost.
These historic recordings have a bad habit of vanishing because too often there is insufficient apparent interest shown by potential buyers. I am relieved to have bought a copy and urge others to do so. Making due allowance for some poor quality recordings by today's high fidelity standards, there are wonderful treasures to enjoy indeed in this set."