Piotr Beczala: "Heart's Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber"
Songs by Lehár, Stolz, Kálmán, Tauber and others. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Borowicz. Text and translations (for ten of the sixteen songs). Deutsche Grammophon B0018337-02 GH
Pop singers have sometimes used technology to perform duets with the voice of an iconic performer from the past, but the practice is generally untried in classical-music recording. Yet here, in the halfway house of operetta, tenor Piotr Beczala actually sings one song along with the voice of Richard Tauber (1891–1948). It's hard to see the point — a tribute to Tauber? to Beczala? — of this exercise in chutzpah. It invites comparisons that don't favor the younger artist.
Oddly, though, he holds up well — not by winning any competition with Tauber but by making it irrelevant. Beczala brings strengths of his own to the late tenor's repertoire and shows confidence in it. While he also has technical liabilities, they seem to become less troubling as the program proceeds.
In the first selections, including the title song, a smooth, hearty manner can't quite compensate for tightness in Beczala's top register and a prominent bleat — actually more of a break in the transition to head tone — that mars some phrases. Beczala's accent in both English and German presents something of a barrier to Viennese style.
To get other bad news out of the way, there's a setback in the third selection, where Beczala is joined by a rather distant Anna Netrebko in "Lippen schweigen," the signature waltz from Die Lustige Witwe. From this abbreviated, halting effort — in which the soprano sounds unsteady and the two voices not well in sync — you would not suspect that this is the pivotal romantic-seduction number from the work and a perennial crowd-pleaser.
Thereafter, it's easy to be won over by Beczala's flexible legato, especially at softer volume in his attractive middle range, and by a palpable sincerity with the words. A high point is reached with Emmerich Kálmán's "Wenn es Abend wird," from Gräfin Mariza, in which the tenor's timbre waxes and wanes gracefully and lingers gently on key nostalgic phrases of yet another salute to the city on the Danube.
By the time Beczala reaches the next number — the "duet" with a 1934 Tauber recording of the singer's own composition "Du bist die Welt für mich" — this listener had warmed enough to Beczala to find the tenors' pairing astonishingly acceptable. Not all of the faithful will agree, no doubt, but in this case the younger tenor adopts a pleasant, non-confrontational style, engineering is expert, and the combination has a certain charm. Wisely, the brief experiment is not repeated.
The final half of the program finds Beczala's upper range in firmer shape, in such familiar heart-on-sleeve numbers as Lehár's "Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert," Romberg's "Overhead the Moon Is Beaming," from The Student Prince, which gets a broad, urgent delivery, and, with more insinuating, pointed tone, Erwin's "Ich küsse Ihre Hand Madam." After some less distinguished material by Robert Stolz and a change of pace with a lied by one Carl Bohm, Beczala seems almost to gain heft as well as assurance in his finale, Lehár's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz," the catchy Tauberlied from Das Land des Lächelns.
Lukasz Borowicz conducts with taste and plenty of rubato, leaving sentimentality to the voice and some of the busy, slick arrangements, several of which are by Paul Bateman. Duncan Riddell's violin solos and the voices of the Berlin Comedian Harmonists lend atmosphere.
DAVID J. BAKER
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