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Back to the Silver Age
on 29 May 2013
Outside Austria, the wonderful world of Viennese operetta is largely overlooked. We might occasionally see a new professional production of Die Fledermaus or Die lustige Witwe, but revivals of the other classics, not least from the Silver Age of Lehár and Kálmán, are scant. Luckily there are still singers who cherish those scores, the latest among being Piotr Beczala, whose first disc for Deutsche Grammophon is a lustily sung tribute to Richard Tauber, the tenor doyen of the genre.
Beczala gives us a veritable grabbag of Tauber's film and stage hits. Many of the original performances can be seen on YouTube, cherished for their ease and artless artistry. Beczala provides a more full-throated presence here and, given the advances in orchestral playing, singing technique and sound since the 20s and 30s, this is a truly luscious disc.
Always disarming, Beczala brings a suitably rich ring and superb diction (in German and English) to Lehár, Stolz and Kálmán's ardent tunes. When he sings 'You are my heart's delight' (recorded in both languages) you can't help but feel it's directed to you. And with Anna Netrebko on hand for 'Lippen schweigen' and Tauber, no less, for a rendition of 'Du bist die Welt für mich' (taken from his 1934 recording), there would appear to be little room for complaint.
Occasionally, however, the performances are guilty of little too much Schlag. There's not always quite enough swing and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra stints on Wienerisch upbeat Luftpausen. Likewise Beczala could provide a dose more wit, rather than his impressive but tenacious forte. Certainly if you listen to Tauber in 'Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume' you'll hear conversational bounce and throwaway phrasing that really enlivens the song. But this recording, like Joseph Calleja's recent Mario Lanza disc, is a well-performed and heartfelt tribute, ably demonstrating just how rich this repertoire is.