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The Young Alfredo Kraus - Arias and Songs: 1958-1962
Full track-listing at end of review
Alfredo Kraus (tenor)
Orquesta de Camera de Madrid; Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid/José Luis Lloret, Mario Cordone, Enrique Estela
rec. 1958, 1962, ADD
Booklet notes in German and English
PREISER RECORDS PR93482 [74.21]

To grasp the full meaning of Alfredo Kraus’s artistry, it may be a good idea to relate a small but significant episode. Several years ago, in November 2005, as part of the research for a novel, which I was then writing, I interviewed Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez. One of the things I asked him was whether there was a singer that he looked up to as his role model. He replied without hesitation: “Alfredo Kraus. I look up to him.”! I was surprised. Somehow, I had expected him to say Luciano Pavarotti, perhaps because of the easy high notes. However, for Flórez, it was really the only logical singer to name. If one observes in detail Flórez’s vocal technique, beauty of tone and refined phrasing and then, listens to Kraus it becomes obvious why he had to be Flórez’s role model.
 
Alfredo Kraus (1927-1999) was thetenore di grazia of his generation. He sang with grace and elegance, possessed easy high notes but also made anything he sang sound truly beautiful, which is what bel canto is all about. Kraus boasted a masterly vocal technique but, perhaps most importantly, his knowledge of his own abilities and limitations never led him to overextend himself. In a perfectly managed career, he achieved an unusual degree of consistency and longevity. For example, at seventy, he was still capable of singing a high C and a high C sharp. The admirable top extension of his voice was one of his most famous assets but his refined phrasing, the warmth of his tone, his beautifully balanced legato line, as well as his undeniably elegant style, were all equally admired, particularly at a time when most tenors had neglected these artistic qualities. Naturally, he is not unique in terms of the easy, spectacular high notes - in that sense, he was probably eclipsed by the flamboyant Luciano Pavarotti - but no other tenor of his generation was capable of expressing such a degree of delicate, well-judged sentiment. His performances had a grace that would forever remain in one’s mind.
 
Kraus excelled particularly in the bel canto repertoire of the first half of the 19th Century - Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini. This was what best suited his voice but he proved his versatility and sang many other roles from 1961/62 onwards. His Mozart, for example, was certainly one of the most beautiful I have ever heard and his celebrated portrait of the title character in Massenet’s Werther became a legend. It was not the only one. In 1958, he appeared with Maria Callas in Verdi’s La Traviata, in Portugal’s capital city. The impact of Callas and Kraus was so great that this particular production passed into the realms of history as the “Lisbon Traviata”. Then, in 1959, he sang for the first time the role of Arturo from Bellini’s I puritani. Like Werther years later, he made it his own becoming his signature.
 
Interestingly enough when he began studying music as a teenager, he had no intention of becoming a singer. Luckily for audiences then and listeners today, his family and friends encouraged him to do so. He was perhaps the only tenor that understood the true meaning of bel canto in the fifties and sixties. So, this CD featuring many arias and songs from the peak of Kraus’s powers (1958-1962) is very welcome indeed.
 
The Young Alfredo Kraus, as this recording is adequately named, begins with a lovely rendition of Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. This is followed by the equally engaging performance of Se il mio nome from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. Then we have a succession of arias from some of Donizetti’s most celebrated operas: L’elisir d’amore,Lucia di Lammermoor,La favorita and Don Pasquale; each delivered with impeccable vocal technique, elegant phrasing and easy high notes. This is followed by Bellini’s A te, o cara from I puritani - my favourite in this collection. This requires delicate sentiment, elegance, easy high notes and very elegant phrasing. Kraus’s rendition is very near perfection! It is beautiful, moving and warm. I was close to tears by the time he had finished.
 
After these first nine tracks of almost unsurpassable beauty we are treated to a slightly more diverse repertoire: from Meyerbeer to Gounod, Verdi, Bizet and even Cilea. Each aria is sung with the same vocal quality that he demonstrated in Mozart and the bel canto pieces. Of the second half of the programme, I particularly enjoyed Mi par d’udir ancora from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (here sung in Italian) and a selection of arias from Rigoletto, including the inevitable La donna è mobile, which is extremely well sung. We end with three well known songs from Leoncavallo, Ponce and Serrano; all charmingly delivered.
 
The recorded sound of The Young Alfredo Kraus is of excellent quality throughout, clear and properly cleaned of all the static. Tonzauber, in Vienna, did an exemplary job. The booklet contains some interesting notes about Kraus, his life and career, both in German and English. There are no texts of the sung pieces.
 
I enjoyed this CD immensely. The young Alfredo Kraus should please anybody who loves exceptionally good, gorgeous singing. If you have never heard Alfredo Kraus sing, you are missing something and this recording is just perfect. If you have, then, it really does not matter. This is still a wonderful addition to any collection, to be cherished and listened to over and over again.
 
Margarida Mota-Bull
(Margarida writes more than just reviews - check it online at www.flowingprose.com)  

Full Track-Listing

Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) A te, o cara(from I Puritani), recorded in 1958
Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret
Georges BIZET (1838-1875) Je crois entendre encore(from Les Pêcheurs de Perles), recorded in 1958; sung in Italian, Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950) È la solita storia 'Lamento di Federico' (from L'Arlesiana)
recorded in 1962, Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid/Mario Cordone
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Una furtiva lagrima (from L'elisir d'amore), recorded in 1958, Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret; Una vergine, un'angel di Dio, Spirto gentil ne' sogni miei (from La Favorita), recorded in 1958, Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret; Com'é gentil …Tornami a dir, Povero Ernesto ... cercherò lontano terra (from Don Pasquale), recorded in 1958, Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret; Fra poco a me ricovero ...Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali (from Lucia di Lammermoor), recorded in 1962, Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid/Mario Cordone
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Quel trouble inconnu me pénètre … Salut! Demeure chaste et pure (from Faust), recorded in 1958 (sung in Italian), Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid/Mario Cordone
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919) Mattinata - L'aurora di bianco vestita, recorded in 1958
Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/Enrique Estela
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864) Plus blanche que la blanche hermine (from Les Huguenots), Mi batte il cor … O paradiso (from L'Africana), recorded in 1958; (sung in Italian), Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön (from Die Zauberflöte), recorded in 1958, Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/Mario Cordone
Manuel PONCE (1882-1948) Estrellita, recorded in 1958, Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Se il mio nome (from Il Barbiere di Siviglia), recorded in 1958,
Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret
José SERRANO (1873-1941) Te quiero morena (from El Trust de los Tenorios), recorded in 1958,
Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Questa o quella, La donna è mobile (from Rigoletto), recorded in 1958, Orquesta de Camera de Madrid/José Luis Lloret; Ella mi fu rapita! (from Rigoletto), recorded in 1962, Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid/Mario Cordone 

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