Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber

Indeed, it is doubtful that any opera singer
has truly been an household name since the death of Luciano Pavarotti.
Possessing an unique timbre that combined sweetness with power and an ironclad
technique that enabled him to sing an effective, poised Don Ottavio in
Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Covent Garden in 1947, after one of his
lungs was fully incapacitated by the cancer that would take his life, Tauber
was an extraordinary artist whose many recordings confirm that his charm and
charisma were audible in every note that he sang. Sadly, though, even an artist
such as Tauber falls victim to the erosive effects of time upon the reaches of
musical legacies: once celebrated from Vienna to Vancouver and from Boston to
Buenos Aires, Tauber is now but a name from history to many young artists; and,
to many others, not even that. Equal parts homage to a fascinating artist of
the past and opportunity for a young tenor to delight his admirers with a
recital of music that suits his voice remarkably well, Heart’s
reminds the listener that Tauber’s ‘greatest hits’ having
been enormously popular is in no way indicative that these gems composed for
him by composers such as Franz Leh·r (1870 – 1948) and Emmerich K·lm·n
(1882 – 1953) are musically insubstantial.

Though the selections on this disc rely principally upon the skills of the
soloist, the support that the singer receives is nonetheless vital to the
success of the performance. Having the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on hand to
provide accompaniment is an embarrassment of riches, especially as some of the
arrangements employed—most of which are credited to either Paul Bateman or
Carl Michalski—subject the orchestra to service as little more than a
string-heavy studio pick-up band of the type familiar from the musically
chrome-plated recordings by the Mantovani Orchestra and similar ensembles. The
Royal Philharmonic players take this in stride, however, producing lovely
sounds that cushion the often ecstatic melodic lines. Violinist Duncan Riddell
adds marvellously atmospheric playing to the orchestral fabric. Polish
conductor ?ukasz Borowicz presides over the performance with complete
conviction, shaping each song with careful attention to the nuances of its
text. Both Maestro Borowicz and the orchestra as a whole breathe in tandem with
the soloist, conveying an unity of approach that makes even the too-familiar
‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’ sound newly-minted. Tinges of nostalgia in many
of the songs prove surprisingly moving, kept in check as they are by Maestro
Borowicz’s firm beat. The apparent enthusiasm for the project by both the
Royal Philharmonic and Maestro Borowicz prevents this disc from ever seeming
self-indulgent, a persistent peril with recital discs.

Polish tenor Piotr Beczala is one of the most acclaimed tenors of the
current generation, with triumphs on all of the world’s major operatic stages
to his credit. It was as the Duca di Mantova in Verdi’s Rigoletto
that Mr. Beczala made his dÈbut at the Metropolitan Opera in 2006, and he
reprised the rÙle in the MET’s much-discussed new production of the opera by
Michael Mayer in January 2013. Fine as he has been in recordings of operatic
arias and full-length operas, he is on career-best form in this recording, his
lean lyric tenor filling out the vocal lines of the selections on this disc
with impressive security. Closely recorded with microphones dating from
Tauber’s own recording sessions at London’s Angel Studios, Mr. Beczala
mostly avoids the forcing in his upper register that increasingly affects his
operatic performances. One of the most arresting aspects of Mr. Beczala’s
singing on this disc is the uncanny resemblance of his timbre to that of JosÈ
Carreras: there are in Mr. Beczala’s singing the same sort of sunny
brilliance and unapologetic sentimentality that shone in Carreras’s finest
singing. Occasionally, Mr. Beczala’s highest notes disclose slight
discomfort. Pavarotti suggested that tenors are born with a sort of account
into which a finite number of top Cs has been deposited: every withdrawal, as
it were, depletes the account. There are more interpolated top notes in this
performance than are strictly needed to make the impression that Mr. Beczala
seemingly intends, some of them stretching his resources, but it is a great
pleasure to hear this superb voice sounding so well.

The recital begins and ends with the aria that Tauber did more than any
other artist to popularize, ‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’ from LÈhar’s
Das Land des L‰chelns. It was for Tauber that LÈhar composed ‘Dein
ist mein ganzes Herz’ when he revised the score that was transformed into
Das Land des L‰chelns for Berlin in 1929. The opening track of
Heart’s Delight offers the aria as ‘You are my heart’s
delight’ in an English translation by Harry Graham that was used by Tauber in
London performances. The similar cadences of the English and German texts
produce performances that are virtually carbon copies of one another: both are
excellently sung.

Not surprisingly, the music of LÈhar is prominent in this recital. In
‘Lippen schweigen,’ the famous waltz-duet from Die lustige Witwe,
Mr. Beczala is joined by Russian diva Anna Netrebko. What could easily have
been an embarrassingly hackneyed party number is a memorably lovely account of
the duet. Drawing inspiration from her colleague, Ms. Netrebko’s voice is on
fantastic form, the climactic top notes radiant and delivered with spot-on
intonation. It is not indicated whether the English translation by A.P. Herbert
that was used by Tauber in the London premiËre of Paganini is
employed for Mr. Beczala’s performance of ‘Girls were made to love and
kiss,’ but the tenor is to be congratulated for making the dated, slightly
chauvinistic lyrics sound legitimately romantic. Mr. Beczala enjoys the backing
of the Berlin Comedian Harmonists, substituting for the chorus, in his ringing
performance of ‘Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert’ from Giuditta.

Rudolf Sieczy?ski (1879 – 1952) would be completely forgotten today were
it not for his lilting ‘Wien, du Stadt meiner Tr‰ume.’ As unabashedly
sentimental paean to Vienna, the song became an unofficial anthem for the city.
Mr. Beczala sings the song with unaffected fervor.

Emmerich K·lm·n (1882 – 1953) was nearly as influential in the milieu of
Viennese operetta in the early 20th Century as was LÈhar, his
command of the cs·rd·s winning the hearts of Austrian and German
audiences alongside LÈhar’s waltz tunes. K·lm·n’s importance to
Tauber’s career is represented on this disc with two numbers from Gr‰fin
, one of the composer’s greatest successes. ‘Auch ich war einst
ein feiner Cs·rd·skavalier’ and ‘Gr¸fl mir die s¸flen, die reizenden
Frauen im schˆnen Wien’ are two of K·lm·n’s most melodically
distinguished songs, and Mr. Beczala relishes the fluid vocal lines.

Ralph Erwin’s (1896 – 1943) ‘Ich k¸sse Ihre Hand, Madame’ was sung
by Tauber in Robert Land’s 1929 silent—except for Tauber’s
performance—film of the same name. Marlene Dietrich’s performance as a
free-thinking party girl whose aristocratic paramour turns out to be a mere
waiter is one of the most subtle of her career, but it is Tauber’s singing of
the title song that makes the film legendary. Mr. Beczala’s performance of
the song is stirring. ‘Overhead the moon is beaming,’ Karl Franz’s
Serenade from Sigmund Romberg’s (1887 – 1951) The Student Prince,
is one of the most difficult tenor arias in the operetta repertory, and it was
a particular gem in Tauber’s concert repertoire. It proves a highlight of Mr.
Beczala’s performance, as well, his tone gleaming and his accent enchanting.
In this song, too, the Berlin Comedian Harmonists back Mr. Beczala with perfect
coordination. Carl Bohm (1844 – 1920) is now forgotten, but it was said in
the 19th Century that his publisher’s profits from sales of
Bohm’s songs financed publication of much of Brahms’s late work. The ‘old
German love song’ ‘Still wie die Nacht,’ one of Bohm’s most bewitching
songs, draws from Mr. Beczala a finely-wrought performance, the sound of the
voice conveying the rapture of the text.

Robert Stolz (1880 – 1975) was one of Austria’s most versatile composers
of the 20th Century, his career embracing operetta, film music, and
a series of scores for Austria’s version of the Ice Capades. ‘O mia bella
Napoli’ from Venus in Seide, transported to the sun-drenched streets
of Naples by the inviting mandolin playing of Avi Avital, is a brooding,
convincingly Italianate piece that brings out the most fetching colors in Mr.
Beczala’s voice. The songs ‘Ob blond, ob braun, ich liebe alle Frau’n’
(from 1935’s Ich liebe alle Frauen) and ‘Ich liebe dich’ (from
1937’s Zauber der BohËme) are taken from two of Stolz’s most
successful film scores and are sung with appropriate amorous swagger by Mr.
Beczala. ‘Das Lied ist aus,’ from the 1930 film with the same title, is a
mesmerizingly tender piece, and Mr. Beczala sings it lovingly, imparting an
enthralling sincerity without over-emoting or distorting Maestro Borowicz’s
perfect tempo.

Never have advances in recording technology been put to better use than in
allowing Mr. Beczala to duet with Tauber in ‘Du bist die Welt f¸r mich’
from Der singende Traum, one of Tauber’s own compositions.
Tauber’s vocals were recorded in Vienna in 1934, but the sound of his singing
is so vibrant that a listener could easily believe that Tauber was in the
studio with Mr. Beczala in 2012. There are no hints of the artificiality that
spoil many similar efforts of combining recordings of artists past and present.
The care with which Mr. Beczala matches his phrasing to that of his illustrious
predecessor is apparent, and the engineers achieved a blend of the two
voices—similar in timbre but very different in tonal placement and
vibrato—that is a credit to both artists. As in all of the tracks on this
disc, Mr. Beczala’s singing is sensitive but aptly large-scaled.

Very few recital discs planned as tributes to artists of prior generations
are as successful as Heart’s Delight. Too many of these sorts of
recordings are excessively academic or merely orchestrated manifestations of
singers’ egos. Foremost among the many exemplary qualities of Heart’s
is the affinity of the singer for the music that he sings: Piotr
Beczala never for a moment condescends to the notion of singing numbers from
operettas and film scores. This is not an instance of an important opera singer
‘slumming it’ in a performance of music of lesser quality than that to
which he is accustomed. Richard Tauber undoubtedly possessed one of the finest
tenor voices of the 20th Century, and he gravitated to operetta not
because his vocal capabilities were unsuited to grand opera but because his
artistic soul found in operetta the opportunity to smile through music. When
hearing his singing on Heart’s Delight, the listener is likely to
find that the smile in Piotr Beczala’s voice is contagious.

Joseph Newsome

Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber—Songs composed for Richard
Tauber performed by Piotr Beczala with Anna Netrebko, soprano; the Berlin
Comedian Harmonists; Avi Avital, mandolin; Duncan Riddell, violin; and the
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by ?ukasz Borowicz [Recorded in the
Angel Recording Studios Ltd, London, during October 2012; Deutsche Grammophon
B0018337-02; 1CD, 62:05]

image_description=Deutsche Grammophon 0289 479 0838 8 [CD]
product_title=Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber
product_by=A review by Joseph Newsome
product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 0289 479 0838 8 [CD]