But for a lot of others, twenty minutes of Crespin singing on TV will probably satisfy their curiosity and they will be quite happy with this nice Bonus, which is in reality mostly devoted to publicity for all the classic EMI-DVD’s at the moment. So, if you want to have a look at Menuhin, Oistrakh, Richter, Rubinstein playing their instruments for a few minutes, you won’t be disappointed before you once more return to those gent’s CD’s where the sound is much better. And if you are only interested in Callas singing “Vissi d’arte” in London 1964, this too is an interesting extra as EMI gives you the whole aria as a teaser for the purchase of the DVD.
There is something nostalgic in the televised Crespin performances. The pianist has still to turn the pages of the score himself, though most of the time the camera fully concentrates on the soprano, either in close-up or panning. The director evidently still thought that the soprano was the “raison d’être” of the programme and didn’t think it necessary to illustrate her singing by inserting all kinds of unnecessary pictures. In 1964 Crespin was at the height of her powers and the ease of her singing is remarkable — no deep breathing but fully relaxed singing. The sound, too, has one sitting up. There is one mike and there were probably no engineers all over the place to produce a sterile but beautiful sound. Crespin literally blazes away everything in front of her and this DVD probably gives a better impression of the formidably sized voice than most of her commercial recordings and this not even in operatic arias.
But of course the main course is the CD with Wesendonck-lieder, some Wagner arias (which already appeared on an earlier CD together with some Verdi-arias) and Berlioz arias. What is there left to be said that has not been said of the soprano’s recordings? Little, very little, unless it is with some regret one notes that her world career as a soprano was rather short. This was not her own fault. When she made her début in 1950, France was still embarrassingly rich in opera theatres (it still is) and most good French singers could make a big career in their own country, singing in their own language with only a venture to the French speaking parts of Switzerland and Belgium. They were well paid and the French railway system allowed them to return home regularly so that they didn’t have to absent themselves for months in South America or the US. France, too, had its own record companies, sometimes very independent subsidiaries of the international majors and a lot of singers recorded prolifically, Crespin included. I take offence to the cliché in the booklet stating that in those days French singing was generally perceived to be in decline. Boué, Robin, Montmart, Juyol, Le Bris, Doria, Sarroca, Cumia, Micheau and Jaumillot each could have had a world career. And with Blanc, Massard, Bianco, Bacquier, Cambon, Borthayre, Legros, France was as rich in baritones as Italy. What other country ever yielded a tenor crop as the Cannes singing contest of 1954 that gave us Tony Poncet, Roger Gardes, Guy Chauvet, Gustave Botiaux and Alain Vanzo?
Crespin came to the world’s attention in 1958 with a Bayreuth Kundry at the time when that festival still had some influence. She went on to Vienna and Milan and arrived at the Met in 1962, one year after she had recorded the Wesendonck-lieder which are to be found on this CD. She first proves how idiomatic her German is long before Pollet and Dessay would show that the language is no stumbling block for French sopranos. But there is far more than the perfect pronunciation. The voice is fresh, warm, all-enveloping and breathtakingly beautiful that brings with it ten years experience of legato in French and Italian roles. Her female warmth in Lohengrin and Walküre makes these recordings some of the best Wagner singing ever. In 1958 she had recorded the two soprano arias from Tannhäuser as well, plus the Marguerite aria from La Damnation, which she could easily sing as she always had the low notes and probably realized that her voice was rather a short one. Although the 1970 Decca recording of the same Berlioz aria is not too despised, the younger version wins hands out. The Didon arias from Les Troyens are often sung by either a dramatic soprano or a mezzo and they suit Crespin’s voice extremely well. It is interesting to note that by 1965, when these last arias were recorded, there still was not a vocal problem in sight and the voice sounded as beautiful as seven years earlier. The problems would only start two years later with a combination of personal problems and the ill fated venture as Karajan’s Brünnhilde in Salzburg. But for lovers of a velvety rich voice this is an issue to treasure.