Flaviano Labò recorded relatively little; most collectors will know him from his excellent Don Carlo in Santini's second recording for DG, now on the Urania label. He was neglected by the studios perhaps because the competition in his era was far greater but he had a genuine Italianate tenor: big (especially given his diminutive frame), plangent and warm-toned, supported by excellent technique and real musical and interpretative gifts. The odd thing about this very reasonably priced "Most Wanted recitals" re-issue is that features only him on the front cover; turn over and you see on the reverse that this compilation includes not only the whole of his only recital but also the equally overlooked album from 1964 by the similarly gifted and almost forgotten Bruno Prevedi. As if this embarras de richesses were not sufficient, we even have three tracks from a live recital by Gianni Raimondi in Verona in 1977. He was essentially a second-rank tenor but a very good one, if not quite as refulgently voiced as the other two tenors and, approaching 54 years old, he has a somewhat more pronounced beat. Nonetheless, the audience love his gung-ho approach and his three Puccini arias, adding eight minutes to the generous overall timing of 75, make for an interesting comparison.
Only the earlier, 1956 programme by Labò is in mono but the sound is so good that the ear hardly notices and takes it for early, narrow stereo. The collective tracklist is a little odd in that the repetition of so much Puccini means that the 23 tracks encompass a total of only 14 arias: six arias are repeated and we hear "Recondita armonia" from all three artists - and all very good they are, too!
Labò has a distinctive,very slightly throttled sound reminiscent of Richard Tucker; his singing is impassioned with plenty of ping and power, if rather undifferentiated in tone, colour and characterisation.. He was not yet 30 and in the full plenitude of his powers; the entire LP recital lasts under half an hour and Prevedi's programme only a little longer at 37 minutes. At times, Prevedi sounds uncannily like Carlo Bergonzi in timbre and like, Bergonzi, sometimes sounds just a little under the note.
Edward Downes' conducting for Prevedi is rather more flexible and feeling than Previtali's for Labò.
Perhaps none of these tenors is a individual or even gifted as their more famous contemporaries - all three were born in the 1920's - but wouldn't we be glad to have them available today!
I certainly have no issues with the long overdue release of Labo's recital. Now I can retire my original LP. It is also good having the Prandelli recital as filler. Where Decca dropped the ball is that whoever came up with the booklet did a minimum of research. These bonus tracks aren't just "from" the Prevedi release, they are the complete recital. Surely this could have been a marketing tool. The booklet also has blank pages which could have been filled with information about the original releases as well as information about the singers, both of whom have long left the stage. Decca would also do well to use the approach of Sony's original jackets releases and fill the back of the booklet with the back of the original jacket, making the print easier to read. Blank pages of the booklet could also have held original covers and jacket backs. Decca is to be commended for the 50 titles in this series and let's hope they bring out more. But with a bit more work on the booklets please.
I had always hoped that Flaviano Labo's only studio recital would eventually be released on CD as my LP copy was becoming quite worn and replacement copies difficult to find. Finally, that hope has been fulfilled and added to with the simultaneous inclusion of Bruno Prevedi's sole Decca recital. It is a shame that both of these great tenors were neglected by the major recording studios as both of their voices reveal strong technical skill, great emotive powers, and beautiful timbres. Labo's arias from Tosca and Turandot rank amongst the best versions ever set down on record. Thank you to Decca for reaching into their vaults and pulling these two amazing works out.