Gounod: Faust/Angeles, Gedda, Christoff

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 6

This 1953 recording, in good, re-worked mono sound, still has much to recommend, but it remains somewhat problematic as well. The Marguerite of Victoria de Los Angeles is beautiful in its purity, and her voice is in peak condition–easily produced, girlish, free at the top. Nicolai Gedda’s Faust is a model of how the role is supposed to be sung, his phrasing always musical, the use of dynamics intelligent. Rarely has a tenor risen to the high-C at the close of “Salut demeure” with such grace and ease; his Garden Duet with Angeles is warm and languid.

Boris Christoff’s Mefistofeles is an acquired taste–or distaste. There’s no denying the quality of the voice; it’s like the Grand Canyon, but more frightening and impressive. But his French enunciation is almost a joke, and while I’m the first to appreciate a singer for his or her “face”, Christoff’s exclamations are so physical that you can practically see his teeth. The character surely needs more subtlety: this is the devil on a steamroller. Jean Borthayre, a baritone I’ve not heard before or since, is a fine Valentin–bright and forward of tone.

Five years later the same trio of lead singers, same conductor, and same orchestra re-recorded this opera in stereo, but the soloists are somewhat fresher here and the conducting somewhat livelier later. Let it be said: sad to report, our tenor and soprano, glorious singing aside, are a bit passionless here, so be informed. This Faust probably won’t move you, but it’s fascinating to hear these singers at their peak, even under the conductor’s somewhat pokey baton. The ballet music is included (hoorah, hooray!).

Great recorded Fausts are non-existent. I guess the 1958 recording under Cluytens is the recommended one, unless spectacular vocalism that may as well be in Dutch can convince you that the Sutherland/Corelli/Bonynge reading on Decca is worth it–or you can find an old “private” recording with Scotto, Kraus, and Ghiaurov, now available on Gala.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Scotto, Kraus, Ghiaurov (Gala)


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