Arie Antiche - Alfredo Kraus

It is appropriate that Alfredo Kraus, the grand seigneur of the operatic stage, should turn his attention to these arias of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for they must be among the first he ever learned; since the end of the last century, singing teachers all over the world have drawn upon this repertoire to inculcate into their pupils the technique and style of what we call ‘bel canto’, the Italian perfection of vocal art that graced a vanished age of elegance.



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I get the feeling that this is something of an overlooked item in Kraus’s memorable discography. I also sense that, if it’s spoken about at all, it’s done in a rather bewildered sort of way, as if the undertaking were suspect, or – in the case of one or two extreme reactions – embarrassing.
I’ve been trying to understand why that might be. Certainly these are very personalised, indeed personable recordings of Aria Antiche. But seen in the context of Kraus’s own lineage as a singer they are surely legitimate responses to the music, and embody many of the characteristics that made him so admired a tenor on operatic and recital stages for those many years.

I like Kraus’s way with Scarlatti, which has the necessary heft for Toglietemi la vita ancor (and the pathos for it too) and the trippingly pert Chi vuole innamorarsi – which surely can’t be by Scarlatti in this form? I like too the yearning nobility and charm he brings to Vengo a stringerti. Best of all I admit to a real soft spot for what he does with Le violette, which is delightfully coloured and full of niceties of dynamics and shading.
Caro mio ben may not be how the new schools interpret things such as this, but how soulfully Kraus leans into its phrases. True the runs in that old school fake Nina are not perfect, but that apart – and it’s a small thing – there is something Schipa-like about his approach, and something affirmative, unapologetically lyric and bel canto fresh too. There’s real lightness to Se tu m’ami and it’s good to hear so genial a performance of Hasse’s Ritornerai fra poco. Both Glucks are excellent, the Rosa (attributed) ends splendidly and Kraus and Tordesillas, the fine pianist, throw themselves into the overwrought but magnificent Stradella forgery, Pietà, Signore, with operatic declamation.
I appreciate the short timing and old school patina won’t appeal to all and sundry. Yes, this is a re-release probably more directed to admirers of the tenor, who was recorded in a ballroom acoustic which doesn’t do too much harm. But there is something rather charming and admirable about this recital, for those who can appreciate what Kraus is trying to do, and embody – which is to pay homage to the songs of his youth with all the wit, charm and adroitness at his disposal.
Jonathan Woolf,

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