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Songs from Operetta, Musical Comedy and Films
Original recordings 1924-1933
Transfers by Peter Dempsey
NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120639 [64.00]



Crotchet Budget price

  1. Neapolitan Love Song
  2. Red, Red Rose
  3. Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life
  4. Overhead The Moon Is Beaming
  5. Iím Falling In Love With Someone
  6. When Youíre Away
  7. I Bring a Love Song
  8. You Will Remember Vienna
  9. Rio Rita
  10. Only a Rose
  11. Without Your Love
  12. If I Am Dreaming
  13. One Alone
  14. Just Two Hearts And A Waltz Refrain
  15. Yours Is My Heart Alone
  16. Castles In The Air
  17. I Walked In The Blossoming Garden
  18. Tell Me Tonight

Born into Scottish and English ancestry in New Jersey in 1900, Richard Crooks must have shown he had inherited his mother's talent for singing very early. So it was natural for her to give Richard his earliest musical education until 1910. He obviously had the makings even then of a talented boy-soprano and at the age of ten appeared as soloist in Mendelssohnís Elijah in his native town before a 10,000-strong audience. It was that which provided the spur to his ambitions and eventual success. After his voice broke he trained as a tenor and was soon earning his living. In 1917 he entered the US Armed Forces Flying Corps and a year later was on active service over France. The war over, he returned to the USA and continued his studies. He was a handsome young man and when he sang everyone was drawn to both his wonderful voice and his looks. But he had much to experience before he started to make records. I have no memories of hearing his name when he recorded his first record in 1924. But as time went on I know his name began to filter through and so too did his voice which I, like many people, became very familiar with on the wireless.

After singing in nine concerts with the New York Symphony Orchestra, a further series of engagements followed and indirectly his first Victor contract. In an item from an early session, "Red, Red Rose" from incidental music to a 1924 Rudolph Valentino picture, Crooks offers a sample of his youthful voice. He recorded this in New Jersey December 1924 and we hear how he had achieved all he had set out to do. With the natural gift he had been born with he was now a singer with a voice to marvel at. He may have only been a young man but to me he was already a singer who would go far. This is a love song and as he sings he takes you with him, feeling he is singing just for you. What more could you ask for? A perfect song to follow is "Ah Sweet Mystery of Life", one of many delightful songs from the film "Naughty Marietta". I have heard this sung over the years by many people and to hear it sang so eloquently by Crooks I felt a sense of personal nostalgia creep over me. It was recorded in New York April 1928 and by that time you can sense a difference in his voice. I had thought that in 1924 his voice was at its best and couldn't get better. However, in the short time between these two songs I hear a slight difference in how he hits the high notes, also how he expresses his feelings. I hear the element of wonderment too.

In New York in February 1929 he recorded another number from "Naughty Marietta", "I'm Falling in Love With Someone". Once again I marvelled at how Crooks appears to be able to use his voice so powerfully and yet so tenderly. You can hear the purity of his voice too as he smoothly takes you along without effort. I also like how the orchestra softly plays while Richard pauses for a few seconds before he finishes off on the clear note only good tenors can. A good number to follow is "When You're Away" from "The Only Girl" recorded in New York in February 1929. I don't remember hearing this before but once again listen to how beautifully he can put into a song those feelings of such longing. His voice retains that smooth, pure, endearing quality of saying how he feels when someone is away.

Everyone will know Rombergís "The Desert Song" and you will enjoy listening to Richard Crooks singing "One Alone", recorded in New York in February 1929. I have seen the show many times and I realise how perfect Crooks would have been in the role. He sings from his heart and with a little imagination you can picture him in the right place when he is singing to you. What better number to follow than "Rio Rita", another I'm sure will be known by many. It was recorded in New York in January 1930 accompanied by the Victor Studio Orchestra like so many on this disc. We hear the orchestra play the introduction in a subdued manner but it changes to just the right touch of lightness as Richard join them and with his natural talent and imagination he puts the right intonation into his voice to tie up with the words of the song.

Who could resist this next song recorded in New York in January 1930? Again with the Victor Orchestra we hear the gentle pure voice of Crooks singing "Only a Rose" from "The Vagabond King". I wondered if when singing he was imagining handing someone that rose, the only thing he had to give. I hear a slight tremor in his voice while singing and I wondered if he had his eyes closed while visualising the rose and the lady. Hearing that slight break in his voice perhaps he too was affected as I was by this sentimental love song. We follow with a very different Richard Crooks. This is "Overhead the Moon Is Beaming" from Rombergís "The Student Prince". Again with Victor Studio Orchestra, he also has Lewis James and the Rounders Male Chorus with him. What a tremendous song this is and sung by the whole team with great passion.

From "Viennese Nights" we hear "I Bring a Love Song" recorded in September 1930 in New York. This time Crooks sings a duet with Edna Kellogg and they sound splendid together making this delightful and pleasant love song a real pleasure. At the same time Richard recorded another song from the same show, "You Will Remember Vienna". He sings with a slight tendency to make it like a real waltz time number, and the orchestra plays the accompaniment in the same melodious way. Itís so easy to visualise couples waltzing to this in the old fashioned way. A perfect follow up is "Just Two Hearts and Waltz Refrain" from April 1931 and the film 'Two Hearts in Three-Quarter Time'. This is another waltz song and as Richard sings you can again feel he is actually waltzing around a ballroom with someone. When he pauses, the orchestra continues the waltz beautifully. What wonderful range his voice has. No matter what type of song he sings he is in full control of how it should be sung. From Leharís "The Land of Smiles" Crooks recorded on the same date "Yours Is My Heart Alone", a song that has never lost its appeal for me. Richard sings it so poignantly that I even had the feeling he was holding his arms out as he sings. This is really a terrific number, a real heartbreaker

We come now to the title song of this CD "Neapolitan Love Song" from "Princess Pat" recorded in August 1932 in New York. A slight touch of sensuality creeps in as he sings of waiting to caress someone, but it is sang in such a subtle way it seems right. This is really delightful to listen to. A number also with that same touch of subtle sensuality is "Tell Me Tonight" from the film of the same name. This was recorded in London September 1932 and you hear Crooks using the full range of his voice, strongly and determinedly.

In the next recording from December 1932 he sings a duet with the glamorous Grace Moore. This is "Without Your love" from "The Dubarry". I had reservations when I saw Grace Moore was singing. I felt a high pitched soprano, however famous, wouldn't sound right with a tenor like Crooks, but she does sing beautifully, hitting the highest of notes, but just occasionally drowning Crooks out. But when they join for the final part Grace lowers her voice and loses the shrillness. From the same period Crooks alone recorded "If I Am Dreaming" with Frank La Forge at the piano. The pianist plays softly and you get the impact of all the words.

How many of us have built "Castles in the Air"? I have very often and when you hear Richard's next recording from April 1933 you know he can too. A really nice song this, which he sings it with all the romantic ardour he has with nearly all his love songs. It makes you wish you could stand up and waltz whilst thinking of those castles in the air. I found myself wanting to get up and waltz with Richard while I played his next recording too. This is "I Walked in the Blossoming Garden" from "A Waltz Dream". This was recorded in April 1933 and with this great voice it doesn't need much imagination to visualise him walking in a garden and singing this unforgettable song.

I have nothing but praise for Richard Crooks and this wonderful collection of his art. His voice is one of the best I have heard of that era and itís thanks to Naxos Nostalgia who have made him sound so good in transfers well up to their usual high standard.

Joan Duggan

see also review by Raymond Walker

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