By Barry Bassis
Anna Moffo (1932- 2006) had all the requirements for operatic stardom. Conductor Eugene Ormandy said that when Moffo auditioned for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Young Artists Award in 1954, “It is impossible for anyone that beautiful to sing, so I closed my eyes and she won on merit.” Within a few years, she was starring in the world’s leading opera houses. Newton Classics has just released a CD of seven Songs of the Auvergne plus two excerpts from Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras No. Five and Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise Op. 34 with the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. The recording was made in 1964 when Moffo was still in top form and the music is unfailingly melodic. Joseph Canteloube came from the Auvergne region and his setting of songs from his native province, published 1923-1930, are written in the dialect of the region and the lyrics are bucolic. The most famous of the songs, “Bailero” is sung by a woman flirting with a shepherd across the river. Moffo sings with tonal beauty and feeling.
The classic Verve album, “Getz/Gilberto” has been released on a hybrid Super Audio CD and it sounds better than ever. The Gilberto named in the title is singer-guitarist João, though critical to the success of the album was his then-wife Astrud Gilberto, who had never sung on a recording before. While her vocal range may be limited, it’s perfect here, especially on “The Girl from Ipanema.” The first part is sung in Portuguese by João and the second in English by Astrud. If their voices are thin, Getz’s sound is voluminous. The pianist on the session is Antonio Carlos Jobim and he composed all the songs except Para Machucar Meu Coraçao and Doralice. Also on the album are definitive recordings of Desafinado and Corcovado. Another great Super Audio CD is “Muddy Waters Folk Singer.” This is simply the great bluesman unplugged in a 1963 session (his only acoustic recording) with the young Buddy Guy on guitar, Willie Dixon on bass and Clifton James on drums. The compositions are mostly by Waters. The session is filled out with two numbers with a larger band, featuring Otis Spann on piano. Dixon’s “The Same Thing” may put you in mind of his “Spoonful.”
The buried treasure of the year is “Echoes of Indiana Avenue,” the first full album of unreleased music by jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery in 25 years. Montgomery (1923-1968) died young and his later recordings achieved commercial success but were more easy listening than straight-ahead jazz. The recently discovered recordings capture his vibrant sound playing in clubs before his first recordings for a major label. “Misty” and “Body and Soul” show that he was already an accomplished balladeer. What is more surprising is his facility with the blues. There is an abundance of straight-ahead jazz, with Horace Silver’s Nica’s Dream and Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser and ‘Round Midnight. The sound is clear enough to enjoy the excitement of discovering a star being born.
As Dmitri Hvorostovsky recently demonstrated at the Metropolitan Opera’s performances of “Ernani,” he is one of the world’s leading Verdi baritones. He is from Siberia and has made a first-rate series of recordings of Russian songs. The latest is “Rachmaninov Romances” with Ivari Ilja on piano. The pieces are filled with nostalgia and outright despair and each is a mini-drama. The singer ends “In the silence of the mysterious night” with a beautiful pianissimo. Hvorostovsky will appear at the Met in “La Traviata” on April 6, 10, 14, 18, 21, 25, 28 and May 2.