Incredible value -and good quality for the age of the record
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 07/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I wonder how Membran manages to produce these 4 CD "Quadromania" sets at such bargain prices - but they do and there are many gems to be discovered in the series. These discs are not for audiophiles, but that does not mean that you have to put up with distant squawking overlaying someone having an almighty fry-up - no; these are very listenable discs as long as you do not demand modern, stereo sound. The level of performance silences all criticism, in any case: here are some of the finest voices from the 30's and 40's (the "Rigoletto was in fact recorded in 1950; the "Trovatore" - incredibly - in 1930) and both convey the drama and immediacy of a live performance without the attendant disadvantages of live recording.
The "Trovatore" is particularly striking for its age -and you can hear a quartet of unparalleled splendour. I had never heard of Maria Carena, but she is a proper singer of the old school, who occasionally reminds me of Muzio without quite the beauty of tone of that greatest of sopranos. Both vocal registers are fully developed and she knows exactly what she is doing; her technique is excellent. The other singers are better known: Pertile (a favourite of Toscanini) occasionally allows the vibrato to get away from him and produce the effect of singing sharp and Granforte makes wonderfully impressive sounds without much subtlety, but they are mighty impressive nonetheless. Minghini Catteo is a paragon among Azucenas; as good as any I have ever heard. There are numerous cuts, of course, and Pertile transposes "Di Quella Pira" down a whole tone, which is a bit naughty and robs it of some excitement - but hardly unprecedented. Sabajno's conducting fairly rattles along but that's what this warhorse needs - and he is by no means insensitive.
The "Rigoletto" is a dream; I do not have the same reservations about the recorded sound voiced by other reviewers. I was not expecting much and this is very much better than I could have hoped. It must be Warren's best recorded performance and that thrilling, slightly throaty baritone is caught at its height. Berger completely suggests the ingenue and sings very prettily and affectingly, more in the Pagliughi school than the modern Callas style and Peerce (another Toscanini favourite) once again proves that he is under-rated today; this is a heroic and stirring assumption of the wicked Duke, properly callous and oleaginously sentimental during "Parmi veder le lagrime", as if he temporarily actually believed that he is capable of tender feelings - in typical "sentimental bastard" fashion! Cellini is an efficient, somewhat rushed and unyielding conductor, as he is in the roughly contemporaneous Bjorling "Trovatore". This is still many people's favourite "Rigoletto" -and I can see why, although I would not be without the famous EMI set either.
All this, plus some superb bonus arias from Warren (including the terrific "Forza" duet with Peerce) at a knock-down price - especially if you buy it via Amazon marketplace. Don't hesitate; you get two priceless historic performances of two core operas for about the same price as a pastrami sandwich."
A Combo Platter
Andre Gauthier | 09/24/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The title of this group of operas and arias is called "Quadromania". It is from a budget German label called Membran and has 4 CDs in one tiny box. Since it cost only $11.98 with free shipping from Amazon, it's a hard bargain to beat, but you must be ready to sacrifice anything resembling true fidelity in the technical realms of sound recording. CD quality this ain't!
The Rigoletto is the first opera of the two present. When you consider the father/daughter combo of Leonard Warren as Rigoletto and Erna Berger as Gilda you wonder how it can be managed just in terms of balance. Well, Membran's answer is to declick an old LP or set of 78s, and not correct for the strident sound of the Vinyl recordings. The only other answer is that they used RCAs original 4,800 foot reel of tape, long ago worn out, to give us this glassy sounding mess. For example, the upper overtones in Warren's voice are completely "squashed" together because nothing was done to balance the frequencies of the tape.
Leonard Warren is sensational in what I think was his best role. Erna Berger is a bit too light for my tastes, but that's because I've heard what can be done with the dramatic side of Gilda. Berger is incapable of singing in anything except in a soubrette fashion. Jan Peerce is always reliable, if not particularly beautiful in comparison to say Björling or later Domingo in the same role. Italo Tajo as Sparafucile and Nan Merriman as Magdelena are excellent. The conducting of Renato Cellini is rather pedestrian compared to any number of other people given the same assignment
The second opera on the set is "Il Trovatore". It is for the opera collector rather than the person who wants a digital recording. It was made at La Scala in 1930 and it is one of the better sounding full operas from that period. The cast includes Aureliano Pertile as Manrico, Apollo Granforte as the Duke of Mantua, Maria Carena as Leonora and Azucena is sung by Irene Minghini Cattaneo. The conductor is Carlo Sabajno, famous for his many early recordings of complete Italian operas, this "Trovatore" being one of them.
The singing is first class. All the main characters are portrayed with authentic Italian style. All the singers have excellent legato, declamation, color and size of voice. The winner, by the thinnest of margins is the Azucena of Minghini Cattaneo. She is the witch of one's dreams!! Granforte is a splendid Count di Luna and his open style of production makes for thrilling moments. Pertile's Manrico has some moments that remind me a lot of what Franco Corelli did with this role though Pertile's legato is certainly better. One big difference is that Corelli recorded "di quella pira" in the original key of C, something that scares, with few exceptions, every tenor to death. (Pavarotti routinely cancelled it in his concerts.) It certainly does Pertile because he transposes it down to B flat. Nothing rare about that, though, and the delivery is terrific. In fact Corelli transposes the aria to B with Von Karajan several years before his first commercial recording of the arias. It becomes more obvious as the opera continues that Corelli knew this recording in his youth very well indeed. Carena is not my favorite Leonora though she is able to shape the phrases as beautifully if not better than her competitors. Her sound is not so beautiful in the upper middle register. She has high notes and chest voice in equal measure, though, so once you adjust your ears to her sound she is indeed a terrific singer. What she lacks from nature she makes up for in style. The conducting of Sabajno makes this recording seem to go by very quickly, (it has the fastest de Luna/Leonora duet I know of on CD) and there are of course all the old cuts that are no longer allowed. Yet this "Trovatore" has swagger and verve as well. While many of his complete Italian operas have now been introduced on CD, this may be my favorite of them. He just gets "Il Trovatore" right for a change, something that lots of conductors attempt but never manage as they try to make more music of it than is there. For the historic collector this is a must.
The four Verdi arias and one duet (again with Peerce) date from the 1940s. The duet is the famous "Invano Alvaro" from "La Forza del Destino" and is thrilling because both men are in their prime when the recording was made. `Il Balen" from Trovatore, "Eri Tu" from "Un Ballo in Mascera" Iago's credo from "Otello" and "E sogno.." from Falstaff make up the "bonus" section of the CDs and frankly make the set worth owning for them alone. Warren never sang quite as beautifully again on record, although there are lots of great moments to be found in the same arias recorded in the 1950s in better sound. What a shame this great artist died on at stage at on 49 years of age.
This set is a great buy for the money and contains a lot of surprises along the way.