Richard Tauber was not only one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, he also did much to break down the barriers between light music and classical opera by appearing in a series of popular films. His suave, gentlemanly look and trademark monocle went with an equally recognisable voice of great beauty.
Composers like Franz Lehár knew that Tauber could make a show, and that the audience would expect to hear the “Tauber song”, and so a string of hits were written specifically with his unique voice in mind. Girls were made to love and kiss, I kiss your hand Madame and, of course, You are my heart’s delight are amongst the finest operetta songs ever written.
Piotr Beczała is as near perfect a guide in this repertoire as you could hope for. His warm tenor has just the right quality – warm, slightly baritonal in the lower registers, thrilling and bright at the top with no hint of strain. Best of all, where some singers have a telltale hint of self- consciousness singing this old-fashioned repertoire (I’m thinking of Joseph Calleja on his recent Mario Lanza tribute), Beczała is stylistically spot-on.
He manages the slight sob in the throat, the hint of a swoop and the relish of a money-note with great panache, while never crossing the boundary from homage to parody. Just listen to how he shapes a song like Grüß mir mein Wien from Countess Mariza – hushed, intimate word-painting, tasteful rubato shaping each line and ravishing suspensions at the top of each phrase of the waltz tune.
He’s joined by some classy guests: Anna Netrebko in a dreamy Lippen schweigen from The Merry Widow, Israeli mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital in Robert Stolz’s delicious O mia bella Napoli, and even the Berlin Comedian Harmonists for the Serenade from The Student Prince.
The only slight disappointment is the song written by Tauber himself, where the engineers take on the bizarre challenge of joining Tauber’s own voice in duet with Beczała. If it fails, it’s only because they don’t seem to have caught the great man at his finest moment vocally.
The Royal Philharmonic under Lukasz Borowicz provides beautifully idiomatic support, sprinkling the musical icing sugar over these creamy Viennese strudels. If, like me, you are a fan of Richard Tauber, or if you just want to here the best tenor in this repertoire since Nicolai Gedda, you really must buy this album.