The Very Best Of Montserrat Caballé

Review by: Dan Davis

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 8

Unlike some of the titles in EMI’s “The Very Best Of …” series, the Montserrat Caballé entry really does include many of her very best recordings. They’re mostly found on Disc 2, whose 75 minutes are shared between Puccini and Bellini arias and include some of the most glorious soprano singing you’ll ever hear. Ten of the 11 Puccini items are newly transferred and constitute a great improvement over previous reissues, the newly opened sound ameliorating some of the closed-in quality of those discs and lending bloom and freshness to Caballé’s voice. This is particularly telling in “Vissi d’arte” and “Un bel di”, though it’s everywhere apparent to those familiar with her 1970 all-Puccini recital with Charles Mackerras’ idiomatic conducting. Only the aria from Le Villi is missing from that disc, replaced by Turandot’s “In questa reggia” from her later complete version with Alain Lombard. Thus, this set includes a sample of her Liù (“Signor ascolta”) and her ice-Empress, both roles she sang on stage.

In the excerpts from Bellini’s I puritani with Muti and Il pirata with Gavazzeni we get coloratura fireworks of the sort she would toss off effortlessly, along with ravishing pianissimos and stunning breath control. If Caballé sometimes sounds understated alongside Callas’ versions, so does everyone else, and her technical aplomb and tonal beauty can’t be faulted.

If Disc 2 includes many of Caballé’s many “very bests”, so does the first disc, albeit with some items that are just below that level. It’s curious for example that EMI has chosen the Aida arias (“Ritorna vincitor” and “O patria mia”) from a 1971 recital disc with Gaudagno in preference to excerpting them from her excellent complete recording with Muti made a few years later, where she exhibits far more passion and smoother sustained high notes.

But then there’s her wonderful “Tu che le vanità” from the complete Don Carlo with Giulini, and a moving “Sombre forêt” from Rossini’s William Tell with Gardelli, among other highlights. Also included are delicious Spanish songs, in which she excelled–Turina’s “Canto a Sevilla” and Montsalvatge’s “Cinco canciones negras”–with surprisingly idiomatic piano accompaniments by Alexis Weissenberg. Unless you already have most of these oft-reissued selections, you need this set. [7/5/2003]



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Recording Details:

Album Title: THE VERY BEST OF MONTSERRAT CABALLÉ

Opera arias by Verdi Boito, Mascagni, Rossini, Turina, Montsalvatge, Puccini, & Bellini; Spanish songs -

  • Montserrat Caballé (soprano)
    Alexis Weissenberg (piano)
  • EMI - 75891
  • CD

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